My state had it’s primary yesterday (May 6th) and, for the first time, I worked the polls. It turned out to be a fantastic, but grueling experience. I got to work with some amazing people who live in my area. These people were very friendly, intelligent, and politically engaged. It’s great to know that there are others who not only care about politics on all levels (not just the national level), but do something to assist the process.
My only disappointment was that there weren’t more young people involved in the process. I was the youngest by at least 25 years and was less than half the average age of everyone there (there were seven others). Even at my training, where there were about 30 people, I was the 2nd youngest (there was one inspiring young woman there who couldn’t have been more than 23) and likely the only one there in my 30s. It’s been said many times before, but usually with respect to voting: the democratic process needs younger people!
Here’s why. The electoral process is slowly modernizing. Here in NC, we already have electronic voting machines (with a paper trail). This election was the first time they had an electronic registered voter database. Every other person there, despite having the same training and more years of experience, would not have been able to successfully run that machine. Furthermore, most of them knew this. This is because they didn’t grow up with computers. They have little familiarity with how they work. It’s not just a matter of comfort level. Most of them don’t even have email address, yet they were expected to run (if not understand) a databasing system. Our nations youth have grown up with computers around them. They understand them and are familiar with them. Most of them would have had no problem learning and using the new system.
The above image is created and licensed by Danny.
My official job was Provisional/Transfer Assistant. Basically I had to handle the ‘problem’ voters. Every voter who did not appear on our books (usually because they were in the wrong precinct) had to come to me to find out where they are supposed to be. I would then transfer them to another precinct. Similarly, I handled voters who were transfered to our precinct. I also was responsible for all address and name changes. Finally, if the voter was not found anywhere in our database. Often, these people swear they are registered voters. These individuals can fill out a provisional ballot, which involves a lot of paper/computer work. The information we collect is used by the Board of Elections to research the individuals registration status. If confirmed as registered, their votes are counted. If not, they’ll be pissed. Another small duty was to scan all the voter affidavits so that the computer system can mark those voters as ‘already voted’.
The experience, as I mentioned, was also grueling. It’s a fifteen hour work day and none of us are permitted to leave by law. The night before, I set my alarm for 5:00 and promptly slept right through it the next morning. Luckily, I happened to wake up and look at the clock at 5:34 – four minutes after I planned to leave the house – after about four hours of sleep. After a rushed shower/shave/teeth brushing/dressing, I headed out the door at 5:47. I briskly walked the mile to the polling place, a Presbyterian church, and arrived right on time at 6:00. We got set up just before the sun rose at 6:27. When the polls opened at 6:30, we already had a line out the door.
Normally, the job isn’t all that stressful. This year was the first time they used the new computer system and, of course, it’s a presidential election year. Now I’m the sort of person who will vote in every election, even if the only race involves someone running unopposed for Municipal Dog Catcher. Voting is a civic and patriotic duty. Strangely enough, the rest of the country didn’t get the memo. A lot of voters only vote in presidential elections. Since they only happen once every four years, we had a lot of people who:
- didn’t remember where they were supposed to vote,
- had a name change because of marriage or divorce,
- were not registered properly (“but I registered in college?!?” …in another county or state),
- and in one case at our precinct, died (wife had to report husband as deceased).
All of these individuals had to go through me to be processed. Additionally, we had record turnout at about 40% of registered voters. This is a paltry number really, especially when you consider that over a third of eligible voters aren’t even registered, but the Board of elections staff based on demand. Thus a record turnout means a busy day for everyone.
The flow of voters throughout the day was steady and sporadically busy with a culmination of many, many post-work voters. Our busiest time hits after we’ve already worked a 12 hour day. Also, in the last hour, many people who show up at the wrong precinct don’t want to risk having the polls close on them en route. These individuals also have to vote provisionally. The polls closed at 7:30 PM. The last voter left at about 7:45. It took an hour to make sure all the paper work ended up in the right container (the voided affidavits belong in the manila envelope, the other ones must be placed in numerical order in the blue bag then both go in the big red bag etc.). I walked home at 8:45.
Overall the experience was very positive. After meeting the people who actually run the places where democracy happens and experiencing first-hand the safe guards built in the system, I truly felt proud of our system of government and gained trust in the process. I really felt like I made a difference. Since I worked in the same precinct that I live in, I got to meet many of the people in my neighborhood. Everyone I met, including most voters I assisted, were very grateful for my help. There is also opportunity for me to contribute in even more ways in the future. I’ve already been asked by the Board of Elections to teach the job to others. This is something that I plan on doing for every election on an ongoing basis. I’m looking forward to November, when my help will be need even more. We are expecting twice the turnout because of the presidential race.