Thursday, February 7, 2008

Stamford Voters: Vulnerable to Bake Sales and Election Fraud

We put a lot of trust in voters. Not only do we let them choose our leaders, we let them enter school buildings full of children. In exchange for that trust, we make them feel guilty if they don't buy muffins.

Stamford schools stayed open Tuesday as voting took place in gyms and cafeterias. I was a little freaked out that I had to wander the halls with middle schoolers to find the polls, but the Advocate headline sounded optimistic: "Classes continue during voting; parking problems reported."

Parking problems, I understand that… but there were other, far more bizarre problems that I’ll gleefully share with you.

The Advocate article says: “Signs and volunteers directed voters to voting, often to school cafeterias or gymnasiums closed to students for the day.”

There weren’t signs where I entered the parking lot. (Were they not expecting any voters to approach from the south?) There were no volunteers, just teachers who didn’t seem phased to see a confused-looking stranger… dressed all in black with a puffy coat perfect for concealing a weapon. Maybe I looked like a student; they were all wearing big coats, too.

I made it through the hallways without incident. It’s a good thing I was at a middle school, where awkward teens don’t give a crap about adults. If I were at an elementary school, I would have had to deal with bake sales and field trips. Listen to these hassles:

“The election also was a good learning opportunity for some students. At K.T. Murphy Elementary School in the Cove, the polling site for District 8, some students got to see voting in action.
"We even had a third-grade class come in for about half an hour," said Chuck Alfini, the site's moderator, pointing to a thank you note the class had left.”

I’m sure those kids were super-cute, but should voters really have to face a bunch of 8 year olds when they’re trying to exercise their mundane basic rights? I don’t see why voters were fair game for the whims of teachers.

The article also mentions that some parents ran a bake sale:

“Voter traffic was good for some enterprising Wolfpit PTO parents, who held a bake sale outside the gym doors yesterday. Parents were ready with breakfast food at 6 a.m. for the opening of polls and had their tables restocked with fruit, yogurt and cupcakes for the afternoon pickup rush.”

I like snacks, but should voters-- the people who bother to register, pay attention to the card in the mail, locate the polling place, and find a time to go before or after work-- have to serve as a captive market for schools wanting to make a quick buck?

If adults can sell cupcakes, can the Girl Scouts show up, or kids selling candy for the basketball team or magazines for school fundraisers, or…. can I pass out my business cards attached to little baggies of M & Ms?

Where’s the limit?

I know Chelsea Clinton can’t chat up voters, but is everyone except campaigners welcome? Who exactly is allowed to peddle their wares or loiter outside the gym doors?

I’m not being sarcastic. I really want to know the rules. If voting is supposed to be like a big carnival, cool. Next time, I’ll bring the lattes, you bring the folding chairs, we’ll buy some muffins and people-watch! I just hope no creepy middle-aged men show up to sit and watch young children.

But you know, maybe we don’t want a party atmosphere at the polls. Maybe voting officials shouldn’t be distracted, because… know what?

I totally could have grabbed a few more ballots and slid them in the box. No one was watching me that closely when I put my ballot in. I know, because I was trying to make conversation, and the voting monitors didn’t meet my eyes. They were looking toward the gym doors. I didn’t see a bake sale, but there was a cute cop. I could have squeezed four ballots really tightly to make them look like one.

This bake sale debacle might be the reminder we need to get serious about voting. Signs should be clear, people should watch me more closely, and voters should get free baked goods.


Anonymous said...

CT election law has explicit rules governing children observing the polls and even bake-sales at schools where polling places exist.

Here's the law in all its glory...

I for one, don't see a problem with either practice. We should encourage teachers to have their children observe the voting process, so long as it's not disruptive. In our little society the sense of civic responsibility cannot be instilled too soon.

The "inconvenience" of having 30 children observe from a distance or having a table adults hocking baked goods to help support what is ultimately your own community school seems like a fair trade for inconveniencing the hundreds of children and teachers in that particular school for the day.

As to your ballot stuffing...the machines electronically count the number of ballots that have been inserted into the machine...had you squeezed in 4 at once, the count in your box would have been +3, which would have caused a major validation effort for the officials in your voting district.

In my own experience on Tuesday, the woman monitoring the ballot box was very diligent. When my wife walked up to the box behind me to wait her turn to submit her ballot the woman forced her to step back and give me some space so that I could insert my ballot privately.

Stamford Talk said...

Wow- the law link you provided actually includes the following:
Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to prohibit parent-teacher associations or parent-teacher organizations from holding bake sales or other fund-raising activities on the day of any primary, referendum or election in any school used as a polling place, provided such sales or activities shall not be held in the room in which the election booths are located.

We have a bill/law in this country that includes the words "bake sale"! .... or did you create a fake page, and insert those words, just to mess with us?

So basically anyone can come sell things? I tried to find info on that but couldn't find much. I did find a reference to a Washington Post article called "School sweetens delegates' vote; Panel OKs bake sales at polls.(METROPOLITAN)(VIRGINIA ASSEMBLY 2004)"

But then I found this: "The students used to set up a bake sale near their school's polling station to raise money for field trips. But this year, school officials are forbidding the bake sales because they violate the state's election law, lawmakers, teachers and parents said."

It just doesn't seem right to me that kids- actually, adults, because parents run the sales- can put a stand so close to voters...

Maybe I'm a prickly person, but I would have been annoyed to have people smiling at me expectantly at 7am! I know it's supporting schools, but... for all I know that cash is going toward an after-school knitting club.

In the end, I guess what most interests me really is,
Who CAN sell things? Just PTOs?