I believe I likely did more for the public good today than most people do in their entire lives. It took me an hour.
Fortunately, my own polling place was just changed. If it hadn't been, none of this would have happened. So my success story cannot be easily duplicated. However, if you read this article to the end you'll be rewarded by a tip about how you CAN, in ten minutes or less, take action that could have an immense effect. And you won't have to buy anything -- or even subscribe to a free email list.
Today I was working on an update to the election integrity action site connected to the film, STEALING AMERICA: Vote By Vote. [film site] [action site]. I wanted to post the best link available for polling place verification.
I went online to check my own polling place as a test. The California Secretary of State's office has a page where you can check the location of your polling place. The League of Women Voters has one as well. I decided to check both and compare the ease of using the two systems. That's all I expected to determine, as my polling place had not changed for years, and has been in the most obvious location for my neighborhood. Lo and behold, in response to my entering my home address, these two systems came up with two different polling locations!
I immediately called my county election office. A helpful election worker told me I should definitely depend on the information from their office, not one of 'those outside organizations,' that the local info would always be the most up-to-date. She checked it for me and -- guess what? -- it was the League of Women Voters information that was correct! My polling place actually has been moved, and county webpage I'd been directed to by the SoS website was incorrect.
We dug deeper and I eventually discovered that the California Secretary of State's webpage for voters to check their polling places contained links to outdated polling place location information for several counties! I called the SoS's office, and my local election worker called them, too. Within an hour, I'd received a call back from the SoS office that links for all the counties had now been updated.
Kudos to the folks responsible for the website at Debra Bowen's office for fixing this problem so quickly. Thousands of voters who would have been sent to the wrong polling place location now instead be given the correct information.
But what will happen to people who already checked their polling places on the California SoS website, who will still go to the wrong polling place as a result of this (now repaired) problem?
According to the local election worker I spoke with, voters who show up at the wrong polling place in my county will be instructed to call the county elections office and find the right polling place (will their calls get through on election day?) or to vote on a provisional ballot. In my county, those provisional ballots will likely (!) be counted, because we have a very diligent county clerk with an excellent staff. (Though even they can't see inside the computers they trust to 'count' our votes!) I'm not sure that's true in all of the counties involved. On the whole, provisional ballots stand a smaller chance of being counted than do regular ballots. And they're not counted until many days after the election, in most cases well after winners have already been announced.
Please use and help circulate this information to California voters who may have received incorrect polling place information:
Polling place location information linked from the California Secretary of State's website before 10/6/08 may have been incorrect. If you have recently used the California Secretary of State's website to find your polling place, try it again now. The information may have changed. Better yet, contact your local elections office directly to check your polling place location. In California, you can find that contact information here. If you're outside of California, find the information for your state at VoteSmart. You can also check your polling place online at SmartVoter (similar name, different site). Also check the official election booklet you receive in the mail to find your polling place.
If you discover a problem, remember that it may not be a problem just for you. In this situation, literally thousands of voters may have had their ability to vote a regular (not provisional) ballot restored by the hour I took today to work on this. One person can make a difference.
While I've worked on election integrity for nearly four years, including on projects as crucial as Richard Hayes Phillips's investigation of the 2004 presidential vote in Ohio, I can't think of a day when I was as sure as I am today that my specific actions made a significant difference. It's a good feeling. It's not often that those of us who work on election integrity or other social change get to see the tangible results of our efforts. It's especially lovely when a small amount of work has a big effect, like when you do a little favor for a friend who receives great benefit from it.
Now, as promised, I'll offer you that opportunity to take quick action that may have an even larger effect than what I did today. Get a candidate for public office to sign the Standing For Voters Pledge:
Here's how to get candidates to sign on:
-- Click on the "For Voters" button and find out how you can ask candidates to sign. There's a card there for you to download and send to candidates by email, fax or snail mail, along with links to find candidates' contact information and tips about other ways to reach candidates.