I got off my ass and voted. But that’s not all. I became a poll worker for the first time yesterday. I was able to assist voters, and be a part of the process.
It was a long day. I got up at 4:15 am and was at the polling site I was assigned to at 5:30 am. The polls close in New York State at 9 pm. There were things to do after the polls closed, so I didn’t get home until after 10 pm. That’s an 18 hour day, folks but it was Worth Every Minute.
As a new poll worker I was assigned as what’s known in NYS as a “Plan B” worker. This means that I was meant to assist any disabled person who came to vote who needed special assistance with the machine. I was also assigned to help put up the “Vote Here/Vote Aqui” signs that you see at polling places, as well as the American Flag in the polling place, and the marker that shows how far away you have to be from the actual polling place to do any electioneering. And, as a final assignment, I was tasked with returning the voting machine memory cards to the central local intake site for them after the polls closed.
The site I was assigned to was a local school, about 20 minutes from home. There I met the rest of the poll workers assigned. There were 10 of us – 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, each balancing out the other and each of us doing our jobs without rancor, frustration or partisanship. We were just people, eager to help our fellow voters. There was no anger, no yelling. We joked with each other, we laughed and shared stories. We fed each other. And, most importantly, we helped the voters who came in.
Now, there were 2 districts represented at this polling place. Two fairly small districts. One had only 300+ registered voters, the other had 650+. Census records and estimates show that these blocks, streets and avenues have perhaps 1500 residents total. Given the number of parents who came in with children, I suspect that a good 70% of the unrepresented people actually living in that area are children under age 18 who cannot yet vote. The rest of the missing people? I don’t know. Where are they? Why aren’t they registered to vote?
Anyways, people did come in, and they voted. Of the registered voters in those districts, about 55% came in and cast ballots yesterday. For an off-year, that’s a lot. But our little slice of election was reflected in the wider elections held all over the United States yesterday, as turnouts seemed higher everywhere. Yay! It would have been really nice to see closer to 100% of registered voters turning out, but I know that’s a pipe-dream. There’s never been an election where 100% of registered voters turned out in any given polling place, not in my lifetime. It’s sad, really, that people 1) cannot get to the polls, 2) cannot ask for absentee ballots 3) cannot bring themselves to register to vote.
The voting process is pretty easy, but it still confuses some people. The ballots need to be marked in ink, the small circles representing a choice in a category filled in – like those endless Scantron sheets from school –
and when you’ve made your choices, you go over to the machine assigned to your district, and you feed the ballot into the machine as directed by a poll worker (who was me for much of the day yesterday). The ballot is processed, and 99% of the time, accepted. The other 1% – well, you get unacceptable ballots (marked incorrectly, and then needing to be voided while the voter fills out another one) ballots that jam the machine (ragged edges sometimes do this, apparently – the ballots arrive at polling sites bound into books, and the pages need to be gently pulled out – but sometimes an edge gets torn, resulting in a jammed machine, a spoiled ballot needing to be voided and a voter that needs to fill in a ballot all over again), and occasionally a voter marks or doesn’t mark a category, resulting in the machine asking if the voter meant to do that. Most times the voter will be okay with not marking a category, or double marking a candidate’s name (some candidates are on the ballot in more than one political party, resulting in the double marking for some voters). So again, there’s the poll workers, helping the voter with the void-ballot process and handing them a fresh ballot to mark.
And behind the scenes we do our paperwork. We dutifully record each voter, each voided ballot, each special voting situation. We make sure we have all the records for each voting machine and each sealed bag that contains voting information, and we write down each seal number, attesting to each correctly sealed and unsealed element of the process. Not the tiniest iota is left to chance. Nothing. This is serious business, and no one wants a district’s results challenged because of problems at the polling station. We are representing the voting public, the political parties. It’s a Responsibility, but a good one.
In the 16 hours I spent at my assigned polling site, I helped. I set things up and took them down at the end of the day. I helped voters at the machines and gave them the I VOTED stickers to wear. I gave children stickers too, so they could be like mom or dad. Pretty neat to see children with their parents, filling out their own (sample, unofficial) ballots and being included in the process. These children will grow up to vote, we hope.
And when all was said and done, and the machines had been closed and turned off, the tallies attested to and sealed into bags to be taken to central intake locations, I took the machine memory cards, each sealed into a separate bag, clearly marked and signed by my co-poll-workers, and those bags sealed again into a larger bag which I attested and signed, and I took that sealed bag – in the rain and sleet and wind – over to the central intake location for the memory cards. And then I went home, with achy hips and knees, tired beyond belief.
But happy. Because I helped on Election Day 2017.