On November 3rd, I’ll be working a very low paying job that I do a few times a year. You see, I am a poll worker for my local precinct whenever there are elections. Elections occur between 1 and 4 times a year, depending on the year and this year we have them all. I’m asking you, on that day, to try to be nice to those you see working at the polls this year.
Like the primaries last month, there won’t be that many of us poll workers at the precinct. The people that agree to become poll workers are usually elderly retired people. At 63, I’m likely to be the youngest worker working all day. Most are in the 70-90 range. You know, the same ones that are the most vulnerable should they contract the virus. Many of the usual workers, possibly half in our precinct, won’t work any more because of the pandemic. I don’t blame them!
In our state currently about 1% of those tested have the active virus. So if 1000 people walk in that door that day, that means we should expect to have contact with 10. Oh we are doing everything we can to protect the workers and all of the voters, but still…
So we will be short handed in staffing the polls. Where we normally have two lines for check-in, there will be just one. Same for the checkout. If you come at the exact wrong time, like between 12:10 and 12:20, the lines might be longer than you expect. And the police officer might have to keep some people outside so that we don’t exceed the maximum meeting size imposed by the state. I hope it isn’t raining. The person that normally helps voters with the machine that scans the ballots won’t be there either, so if you have a problem with the scanner just be patient until we can free someone up to help. That person will likely be me doing a different job, or that person wiping down the voting booths after each voter.
I will be arriving before 6AM that morning so that we are ready to go by 7. We’ll have a lot to do including setting up machines and counting exactly how many ballots we have. We’ll also be counting them again at the end of the day, long after the polls close at 7PM. And double checking against the check-in and check-out lists, early list, and mail-in list, to prove that no funny business is going on. Except for when the machine can’t read a ballot we don’t actually count the number of votes for the candidates, but we do have to account for all of the ballots.
All day long we will be processing all of those early vote and mail-in ballots individually. Making sure nobody double dips. We will have about half the number of workers in an election that is likely to have two to three times the number of votes cast when compared to previous elections. We won’t likely finish the count until midnight or later.
I’ll probably sneak in a quick bathroom break at some point, pop out to my car for a 5 minute lunch, and again for a 5 minute dinner, over the 18+ hour stint. And I’ll feel guilty doing it. Technically we are paid; minimum wage and no overtime for the long day, but the people working are not doing it for the money. It’s because they care about democracy and your right to vote. We are, of course, happy to answer your questions and concerns over the process, but please be nice to them; they really have no interest in your attempts to engage them in an argument over your concerns with how things are being done.
It may be too late for you to sign up to help in your town for this election, but sometime after this election you can call your town to sign up for future elections. Just give your town a couple of weeks to finish the rest of their job with the election paperwork that goes on in the background, maybe after Thanksgiving.