Thursday, March 15, 2007

Norco Voter Registration Office: Out to Lunch?

Chris Casey, the Buddha of blogging, recently commissioned four friends to do a comparison of the Lehigh and Northampton County voter registration offices. Two men and two women interacted three times with each office. I knew nothing about this survey. The grades are in, and it looks like Northampton County is going to summer school. Here's an excerpt from Chris' report.

Northampton County? The best grade awarded was an A. they got 1 A. One of our "Secret Voters" had an excellent phone experience when she called for information on where and how to register. The young woman who helped her even suggested that our secret voter, who has just moved her from New Jersey, could register to vote when she gets her PA driver's license, and save herself a trip. I know when I renew my license, they always ask the vote question, I think that's a great idea.

The above experience is the good news, because all the other grades are D or lower. 4 D's. and 7 F's. First off, they don't answer the phone at Lunchtime, between 11 AM and 1 PM, the line is busy. Visits to the facility were a nightmare. That's not really their fault, that parking is such a disaster, but thankfully, they are located in the Wolf building, and you aren't subjected to the body cavity search over in the Rotunda. Their attitude about serving voters is best described as "why are you bothering me?" Granted, they got 4 of their F's for not answering the phone, but visits to their facility on subsequent days during lunchtime literally found the staff "out to lunch".

Hey, you guys ever hear of staggering lunch breaks? I really wanted to cut these guys some slack, that's why I had others with open minds execute simple tasks to tests their services.

I had very simple guidelines, make 3 separate contacts on 3 days, 2 by phone to ask questions, and make one visit to the office to request a simple commonplace request (I.E. change parties or register at a new address)

Northampton county failed miserably. I don't know what is going on in their leadership, but if they were a store, and their service that bad, I would replace the management. I'm also sure that there are people who have dealt with the Northampton Voter registration office and had positive things to say, and the fact that one caller had such a good experience belays that.

But one of our visitors asked the staffer if she could tell him where he would be voting, and the woman huffed, told him, "I don't have time for that, you will find out when you get it in the mail." and walked away.

I have to take my survey people on their word they are being truthful, but none of them knew what the others were doing, so unless they ran into each other at the Wolf building, they didn't know. You guys decide
In fairness to the Northampton County voter registration office, I visited that office myself a few times. My most recent experience was a few weeks ago and at lunch. Everyone was there. Everyone was helpful. I also just called the office myself, at 11:43 AM. The phone was answered on the first ring. Sometimes, people who call the courthouse do wait an inordinate amount of time for the operator to answer. Perhaps the Casey crew was calling the main number instead of the voter registration office. I am highly critical of that office, but have no complaint with its staff. They seem like a dedicated and hard-working group to me.


Chris Casey said...

I tried to be overly fair about this. i even made a couple of calls of my own during this time, because the reports I got back surprised me. It's even fair to think that maybe we caught the Northampton county gang on their worst day, and the Lehigh County bunch on their best. It was it is, a random sampling, with minimum variables. Who is to say that we do it again in 3 months, and the grades are reversed? I kicked around whether or not to post the results, but I decided it was as fair as any other could be done, and i went to extraordinary lengths to keep it that way.
I kept it simple, I didn't go into the whole mess of other issues about the machines, or morale, I just surveyed basis service from a customer's point of view, and I think that reflects a pretty good picture of the overall landscape.

Anonymous said...

This is not shocking. This was the view of pretty much every campaign and candidate that ran in both counties last year. That Lehigh county did its' job in a timely manor, hrs vs Days. Knew what it was doing didn't have to struggle getting you anything. Where as Northampton county had people who couldn't produce basic info such as district maps. I heard one or two registration complaints from Lehigh county. That were handled in a timely manor. Where as I heard numerous ones out of Northampton . So none of this is shocking nor does it seem to have improved.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:58, It's a little surprising to me, and I am a fairly harsh critic. It does not correspond with my own experience. I never had a problem with the staff.

Anonymous said...

Honest and Fair?!?! I question your chart on fairness....4 f's because your people called the wrong phone # and a "f" because they couldn't find a parking spot..I'm sorry but that is the most ignorant grading system I have yet seen. Good thing your not a teacher. Fairness would be to say that maybe they don't answer the phone at the court house and that is an issue to be looked into. Fairness would be to say that the parking situation sucks and it is only going to get worse since Mr.Stoffa decided to sell the parking lot, and that is an issue to be taken up with him.
As far as your survey is concerned....It is not a survey. It is indeed a setup. No one was sent to that office, you made the whole thing up. Doing someone a favor? or maybe your getting a payoff? Whatever it is you just got yourself in a very tangled Web. Since you are doing survey's between Lehigh and Northampton county's, I would be willing to bet that if you compared all the employees from every dept. You would find that Lehigh county employee's are a much happier bunch. Since an average employee make's 10,000 and up more a year then Northampton county employee's do. They get yearly raises too!!!
{BTW} Bernie I like your new soft side, I think your starting to grow on me.

House of Crayons said...


I have made customer service complaints about this office since the first time I went for voter information 3 years ago.

EVERY SINGLE ENCOUNTER I have had with that office (phone & visits) has been frustrating. Getting responses from the people there is like pulling teeth.

They lack answers to questions you'd think they hear quite often, like "can a democrat walk petitions for a republican" (asked 2 weeks ago via phone). The worker mumbled and deliberated for 5 minutes and then gave this answer..."No you can not cross file". hmmm define cross file... I tried to explain cross filling to him, but his brain was fried by this point.

I have 4 more stories about that office's service. They SUCK!!!

And the only other place with equally worse customer service is the Easton Public Library (main branch) librarians. (note: the children's room librarians are very courteous)

RadCenter said...

Methinks Princess is a Norco employee, no?

Maybe if she would better herself—say, by learning some basic rules of punctuation—she would get that dreamed-of pay increase.

By the way, since when is inadequate pay an excuse to do a lousy job? A lot of us are underpaid, and we don't all act disgruntled and surly. It doesn't make the day go by any faster.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Princess, I'm a miserable bastard. It's just that I never had a problem with the people in that office. courteously and professionally by the staff. I have serious criticism of that office, but not of its staff.

Chris Casey just give us an independent perspective from another county. I appreciate his interest. Although I find his results interesting, I don't accept them because we don't really know what happened. Chris says that himself. Even professionbal office evaluations can be very suspect. I pretty much go by what I see. I see a problem, but not with the staff.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Nancy, You are, of course, right. Lousy pay is no excuse for lousy service. But those salaries definitely need to go up. The slave wages paid in NC are affecting morale. Fortunately, a salary study is in the works.

Bernie O'Hare said...

H/C, Next time any of you Rs have any election questions, please feel free to ask me. Don't be bashful. To answer your question, a Democrat may not circulate a R candidate's petition. But a Republican canm circulate a Democrat's petition. And since this is an odd year, Rs are not supposed to vote this year in the general election. It's part of the new HAVA. If you fell like you'll be missing out, you can change your registration. And this year, all Northampton County Rs are actually supposed to report to Bucks County to vote. It's the rules, dude.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Princess, One small point. Stoffa did not make the ridiculously stupid decision to sell the parking lot while keeping the Gov Wolf building. As recently as last night, Stoffs saaid that was a mistake. That decision was made by Glenn Reibman, and it was approved by the previous council over the vociferous objections of Wayne Grube and Ron Angle. I just thought I'd clarify that. It was a dumb thing to do, but you're blaming the wrong dude.

Anonymous said...

I know that it may only be my experience -- but I was in the office three times last year between August and October. Each time I made the mistake of going at around noon.

Every single time there was either only one or two people in the office and every single time I was told that my question would need to be answered by a supervisor -- who was on lunch.

Perhaps the people in the office are well meaning -- but they are not well trained.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 10:15, I think you put your finger on the problem. The staff is, as you say, well-meaning. My own experience is they are very helpful. But they can do much more than they've been led to think possible. For example, when Nazareth had its little resident to candidates forum, any person from that office could have come and would have been teriffic. I heard nearly every one of them speak at the elections panel a few weeks ago, and they were all outstanding. In fact, they were all better spokesmen for that office than their own boss, who is far too defensive and personalizes
the slightest criticism.

But the office, so fearful of making a mistake, refused to send anyone. This is a managerial mistake, and a big one. It betrays an attitude that is distrustful both of the staff and the public.

It all boils down to what Dick Benner said at the start - people have to know you're they're to help them. If they really know that, everything else is easy.

Chris Casey said...

Just to be clear, after I got back and read all the results, I made 2 phone calls of my own.The line was busy, so I called later, it was answered, and I got a decent response.
I don't blame the rank and file for being unhappy, but as a supervisor where I work, I learned from experience how to lead in the Army. Your people have to have confidence in you, and if they don't, it shows. period.