Learn What Activities Can Be Observed

Each of the activities listed here is summarized below. A chart to help prioritize monitoring projects follows those summaries.

A. Before the Election
1. Ballot Design
2. Preparation of operation of tabulating devices, programming and testing
3. Logic and Accuracy Testing
4. Absentee/Vote by Mail Ballot processing
5. Pollworker training

B. On Election Day
1. Poll opening/set-up procedures
2. The polls as either a poll worker or a poll watcher
3. Poll closing procedures

C. After the Polls Close & After Election Day
1. Chain of custody of ballots and memory cards
2. Central Count Election Night
3. Absentee/Vote by Mail Ballot processing.
4. Provisional Ballot processing
5. Rewriting of ballots
6. Auditing
7. Reconciliation activities

Summary of Monitoring Activities

A. Before the Election

1. Review Ballot Design
High priority. Although this isn’t technically observing – i.e., watching someone do something – it is a very important activity to do prior to an election. Ballots are designed
and printed 60-90 days before an election. Printed paper ballots are sent to voters for
absentee/vote by mail voting and, depending on the voting system used at the polls,
may be used on election day as well. The layout could cause the ballot to be misread by
an optical scanner. There are numerous other potential problems. An excellent
discussion of this has been prepared by Black Box Voting. See pages 6 and 23 of this
2. Observe preparation and operation of tabulation devices programming, and
testing Medium.

This process is requires a high time commitment, very specialized person.
County or jurisdiction elections officials will most likely balk at letting this be observed in
any close up, meaningful manner.
3. Observe logic and accuracy testing
Low to medium priority. The testing itself is superficial. It's a good way to look at the
machines in advance, especially if you have not been a poll worker before and don't
plan to be in November. Sometimes systems display failures in the field that should
have been caught at this step and it is good information to know.
4. Observe absentee ballot/vote by mail processing
Variable priority* depending on percentage of votes cast in this manner. Observability is
limited. The most important thing you can see here is the chain of custody of the ballots
and see if it would be easy to misplace or lose trays of ballots.
5. Observe pollworker training
Medium to high priority. The security measures for the machines and how to deal with
problems should be covered here. If they are not, it is a red flag for either incompetence
or willfulness. It is also useful to see if there is a lot of propaganda in the training re.
Paper vs. paperless voting and if there is anything taught that is an election code

B. On Election Day

1. Observe poll opening/set-up procedures
Low to medium priority. You will most likely upset the pollworkers and make them very
nervous. Must be able to get up very early in the morning. If your county or jurisdiction is
using new equipment for the first time, this is a time when lots of problems happen that
would be good to document.
2. Observe voting at the polls
High priority. All of the above reasons, especially #1. Best done as a poll worker.
3. Observe poll closing
High priority. Here is your chance to get the fresh data on results, to see if there are
reconcile problems between number of votes and number of people who signed into to
vote, etc. All of the above reasons, especially #1 and very important for reconcile.

C. After the Polls Close & After Election Day

1. Observe chain of custody of ballots and memory cards
High priority. This has a high deterrent effect. There are areas you might not be allowed
into to see what is going on.
2. Central Count Election Night
High priority. You need to be able to commit to stay up all night for this. First you will
watch the ballots and memory cards be brought in from the polls and go to the central
tabulator. If you are fortunate, you may actually be able to see the tabulator screen.
Periodically, the elections official will release results so that the press and candidates
know what is happening. It is important to keep these and watch carefully for sudden
changes or vote totals decreasing, which they shouldn’t. It is very important to
document if vendors come in to fix things or if you notice the staff getting agitated. The
computers have been known to crash or have other problems. Mostly you sit around
and watch computers and bathe in the anxiety of candidates and media that want to
meet a news deadline. Excellent details on Election night observing can be found in the
Black Box Voting 2006 Toolkit.
3. Absentee/Vote by Mail Processing
Priority depends on the percent of Vote by Mail ballots in your local jurisdiction. In
California, for example, over 50% of the votes are absentee. The main steps in the
process are signature verification, envelope opening, ballot unfolding and crucial sorting
tasks. Signature verification can be done either electronically or manually. Although
Vote by Mail election results are not be released until the polls close, state laws vary on
whether or not these ballots can be counted in advance of election day . Note: Chain of
custody cannot be observed or verified in a Vote by Mail system.
4. Provisional Ballot Processing
Medium priority. Provisional ballots are researched one by one by the elections staff.
Some elections officials will not count the votes if there is any problem at all with the
information on the envelope or with the envelope itself. Others will do their best to
qualify as many votes as possible.
5. Rewriting of Ballots
High priority. Ballots that are determined to be unreadable by the machine due to
extraneous marks or other problems are re-written on a fresh ballot. Thousands of
ballots in just one county can be re-written. Observers, especially partisan observers,
should watch this to confirm the accuracy of the re-write.
6. Observe Audit
High. This takes several days so there should be many people to do this and show up
randomly to check on activities. This is supposed to be our main safeguard and it is our
only chance to really see people counting votes. The DREs are particularly hard to hand
tally and #4 is an important reason for doing this. Clerks and officials may try to bypass
the law and make it easier on themselves to count. With no one watching, there is
nothing to stop him or her.
7. Reconciliation Activities
High. What is done by the elections officials and is mandatory under the law are two
different things. Not enough attention is paid here, yet this is where the rubber hits the
road. A dedicated team should be in place ready to do analysis and report results as
soon as they can. Computers and people that can handle large files and quantities of
data are needed. Also people who are good at nitpicking details.