Inspecting The Ballots

02/07/2008 10:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I gave up my space in front of the television on election night to volunteer as an inspection board clerk at LA County's Register-Recorder's office. There are over 5,000 precincts in LA County and the counting doesn't start until after the polls close and the police cars and helicopters deliver the ballots. "It's the best day to rob a bank," quips Dave Johnstone, a fellow volunteer.

Media ranging from ABC 7 to French and Asian stations were reporting from the first floor, helping to make the election perhaps the most reported primary in California history. As I would die from anticipation otherwise, I get my news from my portable radio. So far, it's Clinton-Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Missouri. Obama-Delaware, Alabama, Minnesota, Kansas. And half an hour before the first ballot even arrives, I hear the election already called for Clinton and McCain, as well as correct projections for the ballot measures.

The ballots are placed in red boxes, and every precaution and care is taken to inspect every vote. Volunteer inspectors checked for smudges, tears, crumpling, and misplaced ballots. The biggest headaches came from ballots where the write-in section was not torn off. When so much as one ballot contains a write-in, the entire box is "snagged" and would have to be rechecked by an inspector for further review. Strangely enough, most of the write-ins (besides the large number of people who attached the write-in section but wrote nothing on it) were candidates who were already on the ballot. We had "Barak" Obama and "Hilary" Clinton and two Ron Pauls. The strangest "candidate" was Rodny. I had no idea who Rodny was, unless it's Rodham New York, meaning Clinton. Just one write-in ruins the entire stack and further delays the process.

The people who didn't mark anything on their ballot baffle me. Do they go all the way to their polling station and then think, "Uh, actually I think I'm not going to vote but I'll turn it in anyways"? Some only mark one bubble. The most common mistake were smudges, but overall, there were few mistakes, but a large amount of "snagged" boxes. By midnight, it was questionable how long it would actually take to count all the votes.

Although I'm not allowed to listen to the radio while I'm working, I slip in a few reports in between boxes. Missouri goes to Obama, the call being made premature earlier, and Arizona goes to Clinton. The radio reports didn't list percentages, for the most part, but that was just as well. There's nothing wrong with imagining the candidates gesturing and smiling as they make that speech.