The Day Before the Big Game, Bruce Sherbet's Pep Talk

Bruce Sherbet, Dallas County's elections administrator, will leave his office this evening at about 5, 5:30, like any other day. He will grab dinner, do some reading and try to fall asleep by 11 p.m. But he fears he won't be so fortunate. Already, he has "night-before jitters," as he considers all the things that could go wrong tomorrow. "If I had Ambien, trust me, I would take one," he tells Unfair Park. "Instead, we'll just read a little bit and try to get some sleep." Tomorrow, after all, is The Big Game, for which he'll be up by 4:30 a.m. and into the office no later than 5:30.

"But so far today, it's been very smooth, and I'll tell you why: Almost all the judge picked up their supplies Saturday and Sunday," he tells Unfair Park. "When I looked over there today, I was amazed there were so few left -- 12, I think. That was a good sign. Everyone's more engaged in this election than other ones." Hence, of course, the early-voting record set in Dallas County: 477,455, smashing the previous record of 322,738.

After the jump, Sherbet talks about plans for tomorrow -- and about a report in Friday's El Paso Times in which it was alleged that some early voters in Dallas County had problems with their touch screens "flipping" their vote from one candidate to another.

Seems we ought to get that first one out of the way. Here's the story from the El Paso paper, which began with an e-mail sent out by the Texas Civil Rights Project in which it was alleged that votes for Barack Obama were being registered on the touch screens as votes for John McCain. TCRP alleged that it happened not only in El Paso, but also seven other Texas counties -- including Dallas and Collin. Says Sherbet, had that actually happened, "I'd be talking to more than just you about it -- I'd be talking to everyone." Trying not to take that personally.

If it did occur, Sherbet says, well, it may have had something to do with the touch screens not being calibrated correctly. It's a problem with which he became intimately familiar in 2002, when Dallas County used an earlier version of the touch-screen machines.

"We had a calibration problem with 25 to 30 percent of the machines," he says, many of them caused during transportation to the polling places. "It's like a PDA: If it's not calibrated correctly, it may detect above or below where you touched the screen. We started a whole new process about how we address those issues. But we had 133,000 voters that election and ID'd 30 votes where we moved voters from one machine to another to recalibrate the machine. What you've descried is possible." But it didn't happen in Dallas County, he says. And it won't tomorrow, as Dallas County moves to its fill-in-the-bubble ballots.

As for tomorrow, Sherbet says he has 42 teams in the field, meaning 42 technicians who will be driven around the county by sheriff's deputies to respond to polling places where judges need supplies, where there are equipment issues or even to the occasional disturbance, which isn't unusual, especially during your more heated election days. Indeed, Sherbet says, among the more common complaints during early voting was "electioneering on both sides, aggressive people inside the distance markers or people in campaign attire inside the polling places."

Phone banks for judges, who have the private numbers with which they can report problems, have been checked in recent hours -- both the 30-line bank that goes directly to Dallas County Elections Administration HQ and another bank of phones kept elsewhere. Sherbet says he has "100 percent ballot allocation, which means no precinct will run out." He also has double the number of provisional ballots he expects he will need, "in case the unknown happens."

All he can say is this, at this late date: If you plan on voting tomorrow, the earlier you get there, the better. But keep in mind, there were but 26 polling places during early voting, as opposed to the 500 spread around the county tomorrow. "And the last day of early voting we had 60,000 at 26 locations, so there will be no lines tomorrow like there were on Friday," he says.

And, for those who need to know, Sherbet's not big on making predictions, but he hopes to have the votes tallied by no later than midnight tomorrow. Which means that by the time he gets all the record-keeping done, he should get home some 24 hours after he left. If all goes according to his meticulous, triple-checked plan.

"Not many people know this, but for me, the day after the election is as bad, if not worse, in one sense: Anyone who had a problem on Election Day, I hear from them the day after," he tells Unfair Park. "Like, if someone couldn't vote or a judge wasn't happy with something -- there's a lot of activity the day after trying to clean up the mess of anything that fell through the cracks. We're talking at the end of the day, three-quarters of a million people will have voted in this election. But the second day after the election, that's when you believe there's a God again and that life is worth is living." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky