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Collage: Ron Henggeler (sfbison@pacbell.net)

Marc W. Herold, Civilian victims of US aerial bombing of Afghanistan: A comprehensive accounting

Marc Herold, a professor of economics and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire, has attempted to count the number of Afghan civilian deaths caused by US bombing. According to his informed estimates, the number has surpassed the US September 11deaths.


Did you vote?

The December 12 Examiner caught the usually unflappable Tammy Haygood in an uncharacteristic pose. Our latest Department of Elections Director is squinting at the camera, her upper lip raised in what appears to be a snarl. The quote underneath the photo says, “You can blame the director, blame the department, but it’s about the quality of the poll workers.”

In this case, it seems that the proverbial buck did not stop at Haygood’s desk, but slid instead into a South of Market trashcan along with a pile of unmarked ballots.

Or perhaps it’s a case of — the holiday season brings out old adages — the poor worker blaming the tools.

Ever since engineer-lawyer Haygood was hired to oversee the process by which the citizens of San Francisco vote, she has been deluged with evidence of its failings. Even if no real damage has been done — and the jurors are still out on that charge — there is still a public perception that major irregularities could have occurred.

Let’s take a good look at the target of Haygood’s blame, the poll workers. Before each election the city trains some 4,000 volunteers, who will serve as poll workers and inspectors at 643 polling places. (They, in turn, are supervised by a group of city workers serving as field election deputies.) According to Cindy MacKenzie of the Department of Elections, these men and women receive a stipend ranging from $80 to $150 for a day’s work that begins about 6:15 a.m. and ends after the polls close at 8:00 in the evening.

In an attempt to transfuse these workers with new blood, the Department of Elections has approached corporations and student groups, with happy results: imagine the unexpected excitement of casting a normally routine vote under the enthusiastic supervision of a quartet of high school students. In another effort to broaden participation in the process, the department has suggested that organizations send a team of workers whose combined stipends will constitute a hefty contribution to a favored charity.

But even with a revised cast of characters, the process remains the same. These workers receive two to three hours of training sometime during the two weeks leading up to an election. And then the people playing the role of inspectors may take their allotment of ballots home, to be safeguarded until they are needed at the polling place on election morning.

Shall I repeat that? The individual inspectors are responsible for their ballots from the time that they complete their training. There is a careful count of the number they receive, and they must return every one, either marked or unmarked.

Set your devious minds to work and imagine what clever plots could be implemented during the time that the ballots are supposed to be resting undisturbed under a bed or in the back of a coat closet.

The oddity in this particular process is that the official vans go out from the department to each polling place to deliver the hi-tech Eagle machines used to count the votes we cast. But the inspectors, the people responsible for actually setting up shop in the morning, bring the ballots.

The holiday season brings out not only old adages but old memories as well. I keep remembering finals week in my high school. The State of New York required students to take a series of standardized Regents Examinations, which were administered all over the state at exactly the same time. In every school, sealed exam packets would arrive in the principal’s office a few days before. At the required moment, he or she would stride into the exam room, dramatically rip open the wrapper, and distribute the tests to the waiting students. The discovery one year that someone had managed to take a look at the exams beforehand only heightened security the next.

It was a matter of correcting the process.

Nevertheless, in recent years it has been hard to recruit good poll workers. Tammy Haygood’s distress over their quality is understandable. But so is the poor quality. What can you expect when only 15 percent of registered voters manage to cast votes at all? Haygood was lucky to turn up 4,000 volunteers of any sort.

Another memory surfaces, of an election day long ago, when my mother led me into a voting booth (New York used machines with pull-down levers in those days) and showed me how the mechanism worked. It was clear from her manner that voting marked an important moment in her life. No, she was not a newly naturalized citizen. Just a proud one.

Betsey Culp (bculp@sfcall.com)