As of posting, this article goes live a week after the general election in the USA, but I wrote it the day after the election. More specifically, I wrote it the day following my first experience as a poll worker or, in more correct parlance, a precinct election official.
The work began the night before, setting up tables, privacy screens, social distancing markers, and some indoor signage. Nothing was permitted until election day. Election day for me began at 4:15 AM. That’s too early for anything but an emergency involving blood. All poll workers were on the job by 5:30 AM. We had one hour to set up the electronic poll books, ballot scanners, outdoor signage, and everything else before the voting team manager announced, “The polls are open!”
People were already lined up and waiting to vote. A long line. A very long line. One of the early morning arrivals was our first curbside voter. That didn’t go smoothly, because Murphy’s Law struck that day. If anything could go wrong, it did. Equipment malfunctioned. One of the scanners kept jamming and eventually had to be replaced. Lucky for us, we had two scanners, so voters could still submit their ballots. Poorly cut perforations on ballots led to irregular tearing instead of cleanly separated ballot stubs. Outdated, incomplete, conflicting, and confusing instruction manuals didn’t help. And the problems continued through the end of the day. The manager spent a lot of time on the phone with the Board of Elections to get those problems ironed out.
When technology works, it’s great. When it doesn’t, it really fouls things up.
We were busy. Morning was a madhouse with poll workers doing their utmost to process all eligible voters in an efficient, timely manner. I started as a greeter, then helped out at that ballot stub table and scanners, then relieved a worker at the voter check-in table which was where I spent the rest of the day. The manager who had served at that precinct before stated she’d never seen it so busy. Breaks, when we took them, were short: a few minutes here and there. We had no “extra” staff, so anyone taking a break had to ask someone else to do double duty during his or her absence.
I must say I was proud of my fellow citizens. I neither heard about nor witnessed any untoward behavior. People exercised courtesy and common sense. Those affected by equipment malfunctions maintained their composure and realized that we were doing our very best to help them to make sure their ballots were counted. Only a couple of times did I see someone need to be reminded that politically themed clothing was prohibited within the neutral zone of voting. One man took off his hat and one woman removed her mask. We provided her with another mask to comply with current health policy. Most people donned masks in observance of public health mandates. I know of no shouting matches, threats, or fisticuffs between politically opposed fanatics.
At the voter check-in table, I encountered a few people who announced that they were first-time voters. None of them were youngsters, so that indicated the passion surrounding this election motivated them to vote. A couple of others who registered to vote a decade or so ago but never voted had fallen off the roles of registered voters and, thus, were not eligible to vote. Lesson learned, people: if you want to vote, then you must register to vote and exercise that right on a fairly consistent basis. A few young women had married and needed to bring with them legal documentation (like a marriage license) showing their changes of name.
It’s always harder for women. To get the in-country “passport” driver’s license for air travel, women have to provide copies of legal documentation showing name changes, marital status, etc. Heck, a woman might as well just get a passport and carry that with her when she travels by airplane, because the passport driver’s license isn’t sufficient when actually traveling out of the country.
No one complained about having to show identification. I know not every state requires voters to show their ID, but Ohio does. Most people just presented their driver’s licenses, but a few opted for other forms of acceptable identification. One man presented his CCW permit, one woman her military ID, and a couple of folks presented utility bills or bank statements.
I’ll tell you what I did not see: any of the fearmongering behavior saturating social media with respect to qualification of voters or ballots. We did not ask for political affiliation. We did not mark on any ballots, except when the voter requested it be soiled and discarded and replaced with a new ballot. We did not advise any voter as for whom they should or should not vote.
Every precinct election official maintained a pleasant demeanor and was scrupulous in observing neutrality and civility. We made sure to keep every voter’s ballot confidential. We did our utmost to serve every single person fairly and without discrimination while protecting the integrity of the process. This direct experience makes me wonder about the reports, false or not, coming from places where crowds of “protestors” are trying to disqualify ballots or where there are more ballots counted than voters. I cannot help but assume that such unacceptable behavior and discrepancies are perpetrated by people other than election workers who are merely citizens engaging in what they see as a civic duty to serve as best they can.
We did not get the expected crowd of people rushing in after work to vote before the polls closed. That surprised us. The last hour dragged, but the rest of the day passed quickly–one of the benefits of being busy-busy-busy.
Breaking down the polls after they closed and putting everything away took longer than it should have, mainly due to inconsistent, incomplete, confusing, and outdated instructions. We followed the protocols put in place for impartial, bipartisan witness to ensure that every eligible voter could vote, that all ballots were treated with confidentiality, that no one voted more than once. Yesterday’s coworkers worked hard and they upheld the ideals of our democratic election process. We did our best to avoid even the semblance of untoward behavior that fearmongering posts on social media warned against, such as poll workers deliberately marring ballots so they wouldn’t count. Regardless of political affiliation, everyone treated everyone else with respect.
Will I again work as a precinct election official? I don’t know. I’m still exhausted. My back hurt by Tuesday afternoon. Yet, it wasn’t a bad experience; I’d say it was a good experience overall.
As for the aftermath? I just hope that the political trash talk will go away. It hasn’t yet. My news feed is still flooded with “orange man bad” and other nasty sound bites spewing garbage vilifying those of any or either political persuasion. Of course, I hope that the candidate for whom I voted won, as does everyone else. However, as the meme goes, if the opposition wins, I will still do the things I normally do. If the opposition loses, I’ll do the same. Disappointment and disagreement do not justify rioting, looting, and the destruction of property, lives, or reputations.