election day 2020 – recap

I survived my day of volunteering at the polling station for my precinct yesterday. It was actually not at all as “bad” as I feared.

My day started early. I was up and showered and dressed and eating my breakfast by 3:45 a.m., going over one last time the training materials I had for my job, which was actually several jobs throughout the day. The polling station where I worked was only a few blocks from my house, in a Baptist church where I had voted several times before. When I arrived, a few other volunteers were walking in as well, so the official day began.

We had a lot of set-up work to do, not only opening the voting machines, but setting up tables and working out how we would snake the long lines of voters through the space. We were set up in the church’s cavernous gym, and there was a long front lobby that reached around the gym where we would direct the voters. Had the weather been bad (it was gorgeous for a November day in Kansas), we could accommodate several hundred voters inside as they waited, even with prudent social distancing. We set out signage. We checked our equipment. We were sworn in (with right hands raised). We were given a pep talk. We signed up for two-hour shifts in varying rolls. We geared up for a long and busy day.

My first role was as a greeter just inside the lobby. I was to direct the voters down the long lobby to where they would turn to enter the gym. I was also to ask any maskless voters if they would like the free one from the box I had. (Two did, embarrassed that they had forgotten them, and I’m told we had only one voter the entire day who refused to wear a mask.) When we opened the doors at 6:00 a.m., we had a line of about two dozen people waiting to get in. I did my thing and the voters disappeared around the far corner of the lobby. After that voters occasionally trickled in, and I directed them, but I noticed that no voters were emerging from the other end of the gym. (They would enter/exit the church by the main doors, having made a circle while inside.) As the minutes passed, I wondered what was going on in the gym and if the voters were piling up. (I would be working there later.) But then the first voter emerged, thanked me for volunteering, said how easy it was to vote, and left. My guess is that there were a few kinks to be worked out in the process, and by the time I was working in there, they were.

I worked my greeter shift for two hours. Voters came in steadily, though there were never any lines or throngs. I imagine these were the folks voting before going to work, though there were some young parents with babies and toddlers too. I chatted a bit with the other greeter. (I was inside the lobby. She was at the door to hold it open for voters.) The time passed and eventually someone came to replace me when the shift changed. My next duty was at the polling station.

Here I was in the gym, sitting before a tablet and checking in voters. Best of all, I was sitting. This work involved examining the voter’s photo ID (in nearly all cases it was a driver’s license, though there was a passport or two, which was legit ID). I had to visually confirm that the person was who they claimed to be, then find that person in the rolls via the tablet. This was a smooth process for the most part. Most people had up-to-date records and current addresses. Once or twice I was stymied and had to call one of the seasoned volunteers to help me. One man, a citizen though not originally from the U.S., had a three-word name I could not find in the rolls. I tried a couple of variations before I asked for help. It turned out that I had taken the wrong word as his last name; he was found on the voting list, received a ballot, and was ushered to a voting machine to exercise his right.

I spent two hours at this station, and for the most part it was easy work. There were a number of first-time voters, often with their beaming, proud parents behind them, and a few times with professional photographers documenting their experience. One of our (unofficial) duties was to call out first-time voters so that all of the volunteers could clap and cheer for them. Several older voters crept in with walkers or canes, and chairs were quickly produced to allow them to sit while we checked them in. We also had two voting stations where they could sit for as long as they needed to complete their ballots.

My next shift was at the final step of the voting process, where the voters feeds the completed ballot into the ugly black machine to actually cast the vote. Since voters could elect to use a machine station (which would produce a paper document reflecting their choices) or mark their choices on a paper ballot the old-fashioned way, I had to be at that ugly machine to make sure they fed it into the correct slot. This was tricky since I had to make sure they fed it right, but I also had to make sure I wasn’t reading their ballot right in front of me. (The printing on the machine ballot was too small for my eyes anyway, but I was diligent about stepping back or turning away as soon as I could regardless.) A few times the ballots were rejected, and I had to call over a seasoned volunteer. Often this was because there were stray marks on the paper ballot or because someone accidentally voted for two candidates in one election. These were corrected with fresh ballots, and the votes were cast.

The best part about working at the ugly machine was that I got to hand out the I Voted stickers, which are a big hit. (Voters also got pens this year. These pens had a conventional ball point in one end and and a rubber stylus for tapping the choices on the voting machines at the other end. Fewer fingers touching the screens meant less possibility of transmitting viruses.)

Somewhere along in there I had a lunch break, and the rest of the day I floated to whatever role needed filling. Mostly I worked as an escort, taking a voter who was just checked in to the voting machine and explaining how it operated. I also worked at the check-in station again, handing out ballots and pens. The day passed, and while the minutes sometimes seemed long, the hours didn’t. We kept expecting the rush to come — during lunch time, in the late afternoon once people left work, in the evening after dinner — but it never did. We were mostly steady with voters coming in, but we never again had lines, and the most people had to wait was a few minutes.

When the day ended at 7:00 p.m. one of us was going to have to go to the end of the line of waiting voters to turn away anyone who arrived after that. I dreaded being assigned that duty, but at 7:00, there was no line. One man came in at about 6:55 and was swiftly processed, but that was it.

After the doors closed, we volunteers had about a half hour of tear-down work to do, and then we were free to stagger home to watch the news.

I had feared that we would have a tense day with angry voters and possibly even intimidation and incidents. None of that happened. The only “offensive” clothing seen that day was on a man who wore an Oakland Raiders face mask, which the Kansas City Chiefs fans among the volunteers assured me was a taunt. We had no irate voters who had to be pacified. There were several voters who came in only to learn they were at the wrong precinct, and we were able to direct them to their proper polling station. No one complained about this minor inconvenience. The voting machines all worked. The power didn’t go out. The weather was ideal. It was about as perfect a process as one could hope for in such an otherwise raucous election.

And what impressed me most of all was how non-partisan the day was. Of course, it was a national election, so voters didn’t identify their party, but I don’t think that would have made a difference. I got to know several of the volunteers that day, and it was evident to me how they leaned politically, yet throughout the day I saw every single voter treated with respect and encouragement. The outcome of the election was never discussed among the volunteers during the day. All that mattered was helping the voters cast their ballots successfully. Young voter, old voter, every race and creed, broken English, poorly dressed, babies or toddlers in tow. Everyone got the election experience they deserved. It was moving to witness this.

I’m glad I volunteered to work this election, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Except I’ve been told there is a local election coming up next August and that I will be approached to volunteer for it. I expect I will.

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One Comment on “election day 2020 – recap”

  1. Dean Says:

    I like your account and the fact that the voting went well in your area! I have heard of a few other volunteers in other states and all the comments seem about the same in terms of orderly quiet movement. We did hear from one person in Arizona that needed about 2.5 hours to vote but that was the exception to other reports.

    I have only volunteered one time for such an activity up here in Canada and, for the most part, just found it a boring kind of day.

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