It’s Oct. 17, three days before early voting commences in Texas, and about 20 election judges—the folks who oversee polling sites—are spread out around an oblong training room in the Travis County clerk’s building in Austin, listening to an hour-long, rapid-fire lecture by a trainer named Alexa Buxkemper. The walls are lined with paraphernalia that most Americans see just once every two or four years—stacks of ballots, voting machines, old-model laptops that still process voter information. “Pick the correct voter,” Buxkemper says, rattling off the basics. “Collect 100 percent of statements of residence. Fill out all the forms completely, legibly. Give every voter the right ballot style.” And then, more pointedly: “Always follow the steps in the manual—don’t wing it. I hate to say, ‘Don’t think, just follow the manual,’ but we have sat around and done the thinking. So follow these steps.” The election judges nod solemnly and scribble notes. Most are over 60, and they’ve been through similar trainings before. They’ve run the polls during tough elections before, too. But they are nervous. Finally, interrupting the trainer’s staccato marching orders, a woman raises her hand and asks what’s on everyone’s mind: “Can they change the law on us again after we start?” “Don’t even ask that question!” Buxkemper says, only half-joking. “I would just say be ready for anything.” This fall, “be ready for anything” has become the credo of local election offices in Texas and several states like it, where legal challenges to new voting laws have resulted in a steady stream of court rulings that have confused voters and forced elections administrators to invent new procedures on the fly. In recent weeks, as the election judges know, Texas’s voter-ID law was ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional by a federal District judge—and then abruptly reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. With fewer than 72 hours before polls open, the Supreme Court still hasn’t made a final call. The steps the election judges are being instructed to follow still could change by the time voters show up.
For those who run elections, this kind of uncertainty is nightmarish. The final stretch before an election is the culmination of a constant, ongoing effort that began soon after the votes were counted in the previous election; last-minute changes can play havoc with the careful planning that, in any municipality of notable size, has been months in the making. “Because most people only see elections on Election Day, I don’t think they realize how much lead time there is—how much of the iceberg is below the surface,” says Doug Chapin, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Election Academy. “Election Day is like Black Friday and the day after Christmas, rolled into one and multiplied by 1,000,” says David Becker, director of election initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts. “Everyone expects [election officials] to get their job right 100 percent of the time, and the untold story is that the vast majority of the time, they do.”
But in states where the election laws keep changing—something that, before this year, had rarely happened after Labor Day—getting it right has never been a more complicated affair. In the six weeks leading up to Nov. 4, I spoke regularly with officials who run local elections in North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, where court rulings continued to contradict one another well into October. Would the unsung heroes of American elections be able to keep the process running smoothly despite the obstacles? And how would new voting restrictions—if they ultimately took effect—affect elections where they happen, on the ground?
Full Article: The Epic 2014 Frenzy Voters Never Saw – NationalJournal.com.