Last week, we had reports from readers B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, and E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, about their decision to serve as poll workers, and their experience training for that service. Both agreed to send in a report about how things went on Election Day, and kindly did so.
We also heard from several other readers who performed this particular civic duty. We think all of these reports are interesting and useful, but we don't want to bury readers in too much verbiage. So, we're going to run half of the reports today and the other half tomorrow. And without further ado:
E.W. in Skaneateles, NY: My stint as a poll worker in central New York was long and tiring, but it was ultimately a very enjoyable and rewarding experience, too. I was assigned to a small town in a rural part of my county (Onondaga) about a 30-minute drive from my home. My polling place served three election districts: one for the village and the other two for the rest of the town. The ballots were all identical except that the village people (yes, that joke got made a million times) got to vote for up to two village trustees... and both of them were unopposed!
As requested, I arrived at my polling place at 5:00 a.m. Fortunately, I got to see the lunar eclipse, which I ordinarily would have slept right through. The other poll workers were two men (both Ds like me) and three women (1 D, 2 Rs). One other worker did not show up, but that was okay because we still had two Ds and two Rs to sign off on everything. Everyone was very nice, and we all shared the common goal of just making sure things went well. The others had all worked before; some had just worked for the primary or early voting this year, but others, such as the polling site manager (PSM), had worked for many years at this exact polling place. Shortly after we got there, a county elections worker came by to check on us and brought snacks. The village supervisor also brought in chili, which was both delicious and much appreciated!
As the voting system specialist, I was in charge of getting the optical scanner up and running. I am now a big fan of Dominion Voting Systems, as the step-by-step instructions for doing that were a breeze to follow. When the hardest part of the setup is moving the arm that holds the computer monitor for an assisted voting session, things are going well!
While I was making sure the scanner was working (i.e., every candidate was reading zero votes) the other workers set up the poll pads to check people in, got out the ballots, posted signs, and set up the privacy screens that were already in the room. The room was normally used for town court but on Election Day it was mostly empty.
Right at 6 a.m., when the polls opened, voters immediately started rolling in, and there was almost never a single minute without at least one voter in the room until around 7:30 p.m., when it dropped off very quickly. The polls closed at 9 p.m., and someone did come in 10 minutes before 9 and got to vote. Overall, the large majority of voters at my site were white; I think I could have counted the number of voters of color on two hands. Early in the day, there were a lot of people in uniforms (nurses, a Walmart greeter, etc.). In the middle of the day, there were a lot of older voters, some in wheelchairs or carrying an oxygen tank or using crutches (God love 'em!), as well as moms and dads with cute kids and babies in tow. I kept thinking to myself that if these folks could vote, why can't more young people get off their duffs and do it, too? Later in the day, a lot of younger blue-collar guys came by (one guy even still had white paint on his hands and hair). The biggest rush was around 5:30 to 6:30 when we had lines out the door. The persistent volume meant that only one of us could really take a break at a time, so I ended up taking two short bathroom breaks and two slightly longer food breaks.
By the end of the night, just over 1,000 people had voted at my polling site! Across 16 hours, the math works out to an average of 1 per minute, but there were times it was way busier than that. The elections workers gave us 450, 600, and 500 ballots for the three districts I mentioned, so we were well-prepared for an even higher turnout. Regardless of whether it was cast or not, every regular ballot, write-in ballot, emergency ballot, spoiled ballot, or affidavit ballot was meticulously accounted for throughout the entire day. When one voter's ballot came out of the machine having not been cast correctly, one of us even ran outside to get her and have her fix it before she left. Take that, Faux "News"!
There were three tasks for us workers: checking people in, giving them their correct ballots, and helping them in case of a scanner error (plus running back the all-important pens and privacy sleeves). We rotated through the tasks so we each did them at least once. My favorite was checking people in on one of the three polling pads. It was fun to try to guess their party ID and humbling when I guessed wrong; the old man in the red cap and flannel was actually a registered Democrat and the blue-haired young woman with all the tattoos was really an Independence Party voter. When a voter came up and told us their name (or just gave us an ID to scan), we could easily see all of their information if they were in the system. We had them verify their address and provide a signature (a few times asking them to try better if it didn't look much like the original). I was pretty forgiving with it because those styluses are unfamiliar to some older voters, but it was pretty funny how much the messy scribble from today matched the same messy scribble from before.
The check-in step was also often where things got tied up. Fortunately, we had three poll pads so one person with an issue would not bog down the whole line. There were all sorts of mundane issues; people who were listed as inactive and were not happy about needing to vote affidavit, a woman who changed her name, someone who we couldn't find right away because Jr. was coming up instead of Sr., etc. Most of the time, these got solved by the PSM, who was using one of the pads. One middle-aged man had registered to vote online at vote.org a few days before the election. That was too late for New York, so, unfortunately, we couldn't help him. The weirdest error that we encountered was a man whose birthdate came up as 1/1/1850; everyone wanted to know his secret to successful aging! His case was easily fixed by a new voter registration form, and he got to vote on the machine.
The task I ended up doing the longest was giving voters their ballots, and it was the one that was potentially most prone to human error. Because we had three districts, we had to verify the four-digit number that the poll pad printed out on a slip of receipt paper and tear out a ballot from the correct district book. Those perforations were hard to tear cleanly, but if you tore a ragged edge the ballot might not scan correctly and you would have to spoil it and make the voter fill in the bubbles again. We also had to write down the ballot stub number on the slip and put it in a little box. Many of the larger precincts have ballot print devices that simplify this step, but our smaller precinct hasn't gotten one yet ("a few years," said the elections worker who kept stopping by!) I was just glad that we didn't have more districts; one of the other workers said that during the primary there were three parties in each district, so they had to juggle nine ballot books.
I spent most of the night giving voters their ballots with one of the Republican workers. She would write the number on the slip for one of the books, and I would do it for the other two, or vice-versa. In the end, we got into a nice routine, and I found myself saying "take a pen, a privacy sleeve, and here is your two-sided ballot" over and over again. I think I even had a dream involving that last night! Although I don't believe that we gave anyone from Town District 2 an identical Town District 3 ballot, I can see how that could happen when things get busy. The important point is that a small bookkeeping error like that might show up as an error on an audit, but it would have absolutely no effect on the election.
Most voters were very nice and just wanted to get out of there quickly. One younger blue-collar guy grumbled when I took a second to give him his ballot and I explained that we were double-checking everything to make sure he got the correct one. He said something to the effect that it was good that we were doing that to make up for the mess two years ago. I could have said so much more in response, but I just smiled and handed him his ballot. Ironically, there was only one violation of the "no electioneering" dictum that we were told about in training; a very old lady being pushed in a wheelchair was wearing a Trump 2020 hat. I didn't yell at her to remove it and the PSM didn't say anything, and I don't think anybody was intimidated or offended, but technically, it was not allowed.
Overall, the experience gave me even more respect for the front-line workers who actually run the nuts and bolts that make our democracy work. Although I'm disappointed that I'll be represented by an ultra-MAGA House member for the next 2 years, I am glad that I could play a small role in the important process that truly makes our country great.
K.T. in Franklin County, OH: I was also a new poll worker. I live in Franklin County, OH, (metro Columbus) and the county board of elections tries to assign workers to locations near their homes. I ended up working at an elementary school five minutes away.
The Board of Elections provides introductory and review training. Workers are expected to work all day on Election Day and, if possible, to help set up equipment the evening before. Election Day is a long day; final preparation begins at 5:30 am, polls open at 6:30, and they do not close until every voter in line at 7:30 pm has voted. And 7:30 is a hard deadline; a potential voter who showed up at 7:31 was turned away. The last voter finished just before 9:00, which is unusually late. Yes, it took her an hour and a half in all, which was common for most of the day. We didn't wrap up until 9:30.
I was a machine judge. My duties included assisting voters with the ballot marking machines and scanners, managing the line, and setting up and taking down signage. There are few things I hate more than getting up early, and my legs and feet were very sore by the end of the day.
We will be paid for our time. I don't know what the final amount will be, but I expect about $200. This is less than $10/hour when all is said and done, but it's really not about the money. The twenty of us at my site had the satisfaction of helping 1,565 of our fellow citizens exercise a fundamental responsibility of citizenship. That is priceless.
K.K. in Pittsburgh, PA: I worked the polls on Election Day in a purplish district in the suburbs north of Pittsburgh. In-person voters were mostly Republican. As the Minority Inspector, I got to take a bunch of paperwork home, including a tape from the scanner indicating the number of votes for each candidate, so I have actual data. In that district, the GOP candidates for the Senate, Congress, and the State Legislature all won the in-person vote by a roughly 3-2 margin (approximately a 70-vote difference out of a total of 362 votes cast), but in the governor's race, Doug Mastriano (R) won over Josh Shapiro (D) by only 4 votes. The total votes cast for governor still added up to 362, so people weren't leaving that line blank. This means there had to be a lot of split-ticket Republican voters who chose Shapiro. I was very relieved to see that even GOP voters could see that Mastriano was unfit for office.
Thanks to all of you for your reports and your public service! (V & Z)