We would have preferred to run this last week, but sometimes other news stories (and other things) get in the way. Anyhow, we had reports from two readers, B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, and E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, about their pre-election experiences working the polling places. Then we had post-election reports from E.W. and several other readers. Now, it is finally time for the post-election report from B.J.L., along with a couple of other readers:
B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, so welcome to the Big 10, (Z)! We have 45,000 students split between four campuses in Ann Arbor and two satellite campuses in Flint and Dearborn. We are home to a wealth of top-ranked programs including law, medicine, dentistry, nursing, business, engineering, etc. I heard that the law school suspended classes and encouraged students to be poll workers and watchers. There are several polling sites on campus at common buildings such as the Michigan union and the Michigan league. From a voting perspective, this would be where the action would be in terms of poll challengers and shenanigans. The chatter on Twitter was that there was a 4-hour wait to vote past the closing of polls at one of the campus locations. But we were at a sleepy poll location (I'm not complaining) that had a handful of final voters in the last hour.
On our ballot, we had 3 statewide races all won by Democrats, our House race, regents races for our universities, and on the nonpartisan ballot, we had a bunch of judges and local races. Honestly, I had never heard of the one person running for our local ward alderman. Maybe I'm not the most attuned voter. We had three ballot initiatives, one on due diligence to get our state legislators to disclose financial conflicts of interest (something our Republican legislature wanted to kill), the reproductive freedom endorsement, and a third one I can't remember at present. They all went through quite easily here, 85-90% locally and well above 55% statewide. We had few problems, at most a couple of spoiled ballots, a couple people who brought in absentee ballots to surrender, and one so-called challenged ballot from city hall. But otherwise, it was uneventful.
Each precinct has 2 different voter-tally terminals, one for the regular voters and one for disabled voters including a Braille instruction set for voting. For all the effort to enable this disabled voter terminal for our 7 a.m.-8 p.m. poll open period, out of nearly 500 in-person voters, none used the assist device. We had several octogenerarians among voters for in-person voting, but none availed themselves of this device. There's a similar device at every one of our 53 precincts in place.
We hosted several VIP visitors at our site briefly including two visits from staff from our county clerk's office and an assistant Secretary of State for the state of Michigan. Our precinct leader (our token Republican) said that in 22 years of elections, this was the first time they had ever seen someone from their SOS office at their poll site. The takeaway was that the SOS office was expecting problems. The VIP was quite well dressed and asked what he could do to help. I suggested if he wanted to help, he could sit down and help put ballots in sleeves for voters, but he begged off on that quickly, albeit with a smile.
On the process, polling was handled professionally, courteously and efficiently. One poll worker had to go home early and we were able to muddle through with the seven of us who were left. There are requirements, include having both Republicans and Democrats to observe and vouch for vote tallies, including zeroing out the machine before the polls open and again after close. We were required to sign the tallies, seal ballots signed by Republican and Democratic signatures, and tote the ballots, etc. to city hall. About 2 hours later, I think the tallies were ultimately posted from HQ.
I'm reminded of all of the relief mentioned by voters who were literally assaulted by months of negative advertising. I helpfully pointed out to those in line that we're only 700+ days from another election and another onslaught. It made me think about the absurdity that some billionaire can literally buy up all ad spots for a TV station and block an opponent from advertising. The ads are so valueless and should be treated like hazardous waste. I'm all for taxing all political advertising at this stage. At least some good might come from what's collected. The size and scale of money spent on elections is so obscene; we need a new way.
P.S.: It's 2 days post-election and I've noticed who has pulled yard signs already. In Michigan we had a relatively polarizing ballot initiative on reproductive freedom. Voting "yes" acknowledged that I have no business suggesting how someone else's care is managed and "no" was to continue our ambiguous state regulations with both an unconstitutional law on our books dating back to 1931 banning abortion and also some concern about enforcing this. Our local Catholic school had these giant signs out front suggesting that the initiative was both confusing and extreme and encouraging a "no" vote. Other individuals had similar giant signs posted prominently on roads including the northeast corner of Ann Arbor, where there is apparently a relatively tight knit group of religious people who are offended that abortion is legal. Well, those signs have disappeared quickly following the vote tallies, including a 57% approval rating on this initiative in the state overall, and more like 90% "yes" in Ann Arbor. I haven't been by the school but the residential signs have been pulled. No one wants to be linked with losing ideas... I get that. But I'm also less convinced that the initiative was the element that was confused and extreme.
P.W. in Baltimore, MD: I am a chief election judge in Baltimore County, MD. I have been a judge since 2006 and a chief since 2012. Each precinct has two chief judges, one from each party, plus several other assisting judges for the other jobs (pollbooks, ballots, scanner, provisional). We arrive at 5:45 a.m. in order to be open at 7 a.m. and we close sharply at 8 p.m. If you are in the door, you are allowed to vote. As a chief, it is my responsibility to do all of the closing paperwork and make sure all the numbers add up. After that, I help clean up. We were completely out of the school before 10 p.m.
Baltimore County decided on an unusually long three-page ballot this year (there were several state constitutional questions and a lot of local bond questions). The ballots in use are paper and the voter fills in the bubble next to their selection (like school) and then takes the ballot to the scanning machine. There are also ballot-marking devices, which are machines that show the ballot on a screen. The voter selects, then the machine prints the ballot. This BMD ballot is then scanned the same as a paper ballot. At the end of the day, the memory sticks are returned very quickly to the board of elections. We are supposed to have a "closer" judge who is to do this for us, but in all the elections I have done, we have only had this once. So I just assign a judge to do it. At the end of the day, all of the physical ballots, provisional ballots and various paperwork, after being signed by both chiefs and tamper-tape-sealed, are dropped off by us to the board of elections drop-off spot.
Fortunately the board of elections has learned from its previous mistakes and stopped making the ballots on tear off sheets and this eliminated the extreme hassle and lines at the scanning unit like the previous time we had a multipage ballot.
Overall, the day went fine, if long, with no notable incidents. It was a steady pace all day, with maybe 30% turnout. There were the usual people coming to the wrong precinct. Baltimore County had redone its precincts for 2022, so this was especially common this year. A few same day registrations, this was new in 2020. And a few men (its always some old guy) complaining that we do not ask for ID when checking them in. (Maryland requires we do not ask for ID)
J.F. in East Allen Township, PA: A short and succinct comment that probably sums up my experience working the polls:
My confidence and faith in my fellow Pennsylvanians was restored, a small but measurable bit in my heart, because while the 67% turnout proves my district was "fired up!" and loaded with emotion... everyone remained calm, even friendly, the whole time in the lines and outside, etc. Speaking with workers from other districts at the courthouse at the end of the night, their experiences seemed to be the same. I heard no stories at all about anyone "losing it" at any poll here in Northampton County, so while I'm still sad that so many of my friends and neighbors somehow found it in their souls to vote for Doug Mastriano (R), it's still with the knowledge that while doing so they kept composure at all times. I was not so sure that was going to be the case.
This was my first non-primary election as a poll worker, with huge turnout, and I recommend it to anyone who's thinking about it. The time goes far faster than you'd expect and it is a great way to meet your neighbors (and, I must admit, find out who's in what party...) and feel like you're adding just a tiny little something to the Big Machine that is the election system.
And, of course, my confidence and faith in my Commonwealth was restored a bit more when I saw the results. I have John Fetterman and Rep. Susan Wild (D) signs out in my blood-red neighborhood so I'm sure I was personally responsible for getting them elected. You're all welcome! :D
Thanks to the three of you! We'll have one more entry in this series, hopefully later this week. (Z)