I Work the Polls, part 5 -- Election DaysteemCreated with Sketch.

in politics •  3 years ago  (edited)

I fully expect this last installment of my personal observations of the NC voting process to get buried by results and rants, but writing helps me to think and process my experience, so I'm going to take the time and post it anyway. Earlier parts of this series can be found here:   

  1. Opening Day
  2. the Weekend
  3. the Laboratory
  4. People Suck  

I spent almost fifteen hours on Election Day working on a college campus, not the rec center where I worked Early Voting. The different setup made for a completely different feel and different problems to solve.    

[image source]

First let me describe the setup and the flow of the line.    

There were no networked check-in laptops. Instead there were pages of pre-printed, bar-coded stickers in four binders: A-E, F-K, L-Q, and R-T. For most of the morning, there were two poll workers checking voters in. Voters got similar but not identical paper check-in sheets, which were placed into a single sequential stack, not sorted into five stacks based on which laptop printed them (much less error-prone). Checking the voters into the voting machines was also much simpler, because they were already in their registered precinct, and the only instructions I had to give them were about the touch screens being slower than their phones.   

“See how that chirp response took almost half a second? So this is more of a touch-and-hold system than you're used to. Read through these directions, whenever you're ready press 'Begin Voting,' and if you need anything just wave and one of us will be over.”   

Maybe 1 voter in 20 had a question. I heard maybe 5 questions about the security of the ballot the whole day.   The most important functional difference was that at my site during Early Voting, we had 20 machines. Any lines were the result of under-staffing, because we never had enough people to keep up with them, espcecially with me hauling one of them out to the parking lot every time a curbside voter showed up. Though the elderly voters took a long time, many middle-aged ones finished in just a minute or two, which told me that they were skipping a lot of the ballot. We usuall ran our asses off for nine out of the 10.5 hours of a normal day. Most days I only had a chance to sit down and eat during curbsides. There were only two days under a thousand people, and that's because they were of shorter duration.   

We had the opposite problem on campus. We had plenty of poll workers (including three high school students earning service hours), but only six machines. Since the legislature did away with straight-party ticket balloting, which would have resolved two or three pages of our ballot with one finger-press, each five-page ballot took at least five minutes to fill out completely. Many of the students took longer, some much longer. Why I'm not sure, though I think they may have skipped fewer local races. I haven't had a chance to confirm that in the results. In any case, all of us (workers included) spent a lot of time just standing and waiting for an open machine. During our peak time from 1-5, many students reported waiting an hour. The line finally disappeared sometime around 6pm. We did a total of only 600 - 700 voters in a longer day (13 hours of open polls).   

Six machines was clearly not enough to meet the demand.    

Given the manipulations we've seen by other county election boards in NC, I have to wonder whether this was a stupid oversight or a deliberate attempt to suppress the turnout on campus. Almost every student in the long line was intently texting someone. I wonder how many of those were complaints at the wait, and how many students did not show up to vote at all because of that wait. I also wonder how many machines campus had during Early Voting? Comparing 20 (EV) and 6 (ED) is obviously apples and oranges, but if campus also had fewer machines and longer lines for the two weeks leading up to Election Day, that could have been important.   

Students move too damned often.   

We had four people spend almost the entire day dealing with students who were not in the sticker book. Some were registered at home, outside the county, and hadn't updated. If they were unwilling to hop in the car and drive home, these were given provisional paper ballots and a lecture about how their votes might not count. Some of their registrations, collected on campus by clipboarded volunteers, were never turned in, either out of flakiness or malice. (I actually talked to one of those volunteers during the morning, who said that they had to kick people off their teams for injecting partisanship into their voter registration drives.) Many were registered at another precinct in Guilford County, for a dizzying variety of reasons, and had to be routed to those precincts. The last one I saw, an exhausted young lady, tore out of our second-floor room at 7:15, hoping to get to the other precinct by 7:30.   

The high schoolers probably did not get much out of the experience, educationally.   

Two of the young ladies, both seventeen, came from the same big school my son attends. They got stuck outside most of the morning on line management, and I heard that they left around 1pm. The other, an AP Government senior from a different high school, worked the check-in desk the entire day. She did a great job; that's not my point. None of them ever touched a voting machine in any way, which seems like a wasted opportunity. I did think to offer the desk girl a chance, but this was during the afternoon when the line was long and she was already tired, so she didn't take me up on it. She stayed through the clean-up, count, and break-down phase, and was helpful, but I'm not sure how much her brain absorbed after 14 hours of tedious repetetive labor. There was certainly no context and no attempt to make the process align with her curriculum. I asked her a few pragmatic questions while I was helping out at the desk during the afternoon, like,    

Q: “Why sticker books and not networked laptops?” 
A: “???”      Probably because sticker books are traditional, and cheaper than laptops, but the truth is, I don't know either.   
Q: “Vice versa, then. Why not sticker books during Early Voting?” 
A: “Because with 100,000 names or how-many-ever registered voters the county has, the books would be huge, and expensive, and slow.”   
Q: “What does the ABS on some of the stickers mean?” 
A: “ That means this person already voted during Early Voting, which is classified under ABSentee ballots.” 
That last one was our supervisor filling us in.   

I mentioned in an earlier post that I want to build a Poll Worker curriculum here in Guilford County, modeling it on existing service programs in other states.   

Tomorrow, summary and wrap-up to this series. 

Today I need a nap.  

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Thanks for all the work you put into reporting your experience as a poll worker. My grandfather proudly did that for decades in Missouri. He took it very seriously. I much prefer our system here in Oregon, though. We get a ballot in the mail and a voter's pamplhet, which is really a small book made of the same paper as a newspaper, but in magazine form. The pamphlet has all the candidates' statements, the text of all ballot initiatives. We fill out the ballot at our leisure. And then drop it in the mailbox or in special pickup boxes all over town. It's so civilized. We can check online that our ballot has gotten in - and then all the political phone calls stop, lol.

Oregon also just started automatic voter registration with any transaction at a Department of Motor Vehicles. We had 250,000 new voters from that this year. Anyway, we have over 80% participation in 2012 and 79% in 2016. The automatically registered people didn't vote at a high rate, about 43%. But that means people who actively register to vote participate at really high rates.

I hope that your part of the country can get automatic voter registration and vote by mail. Both really do increase participation -- and without all the rigamarole that you've described in your series. Thanks, though, for your service as a poll worker. Where there is in-person voting, your work is an important part of democracy!

I had a voter who recently moved here to NC describe that system to me in less detail than you just did. Sounds entirely civilized, although I'm sure there are still ways to game the system, as there are with any system.

To be honest, I don't know if I'll do it again. It was a good learning experience, and like jury duty, I think everyone should do it at least once. It's not a good job, though -- temporary, long hours, not great pay, no benefits. It's more like working at a food bank where they let you take food home at the end of the shift. It would depend on where my business was at during the next election. If I had some time, maybe.