A day in the Life of a US Election Worker (Helping you vote was my pleasure.)
It’s Amy’s fault. My next-door-neighbor. She’s why I worked this year’s election.
Earlier this fall, she posted on Facebook an article about being a US poll worker in the 2020 presidential election.
The thought sent a thrill through the middle of my chest. “I’m doing it!” I crowed at her from my backyard later that day. “This election is so important. I want to be a part of it!”
Via an online registration form, I signed up to work the November election in West Virginia. For days, then weeks, I heard nothing. Until my friend Juliette posted on Facebook she’d been picked to work the polls. At my request, she private-messaged me a phone number to call since my online inquiry yielded no response.
After receiving my message, a Kim at the County Clerk’s office called and took my information. A few days later she declared me an alternate. Which deeply disappointed me. Because:
I desperately desired to be a “real live” election worker.
And the next day I was. Some woman had attended the poll worker training and decided she didn’t want to work the election after all, so they slid me into her spot. Hooray!
At the training, I soon realized why the lady bailed. The process, including that of helping someone cast a “provisional ballot,” intimidated me. And my friend, Juliette. We both hoped we’d be relegated to the post of escorting people to the polling machines and asking them, “Have you used one of these before?”
Juliette got her wish. I did not.
At a local high school turned polling place, I would be a poll clerk, seated at the check-in table near the entry.
Because this location was not my precinct, I voted early with my husband, Tony. The early voting process was so fast and easy, we agreed this may be the way to go in the future.
Two days later I returned to the early voting location to “shadow” the workers there, having been told an hour of doing so would burn off my jitters.
Four ladies who’d worked the polls together for decades walked me through how to:
- Check-in and validate each voter.
- Receive a surrendered mail-in ballot.
- Fill out a provisional ballot.
- Handle the change-of-address process.
- Complete the required paperwork for voters accompanied by someone assisting them.
Practicing the polling process did more than burn off my pre-election jitters.
Shadowing at the polls acted like bellows on the tiny election worker enthusiasm spark inside of me.
On Election Eve, in order to wake up at 4 am the next morning, I went to bed at 9. Before I slipped beneath the covers, I set two alarms. There was no way I was missing tomorrow’s election!
Arriving at the polling place at 5:30 am, I carried my snacks and water for the day into the school.
The detailed directions for assembling a polling place confounded me, but not my fellow poll workers. In less than an hour, we were ready to open the doors. Before we did though, one of the managers gathered us in a circle. So we could take the oath to do nothing whatsoever to defile this sacred process.
Please allow me to introduce my fellow election workers.
Crystal, a single mother at least 20 years my junior, sat on my left. She possessed more experience than me, but not much. She’d worked the primary in May. Still, she was calm, confident, and able to answer almost all my questions.
Like Crystal, Rob worked this May’s primary. When Crystal wasn’t available to solve a problem, I turned to him.
Across the foyer from me sat Nancy, a cheerful gal 10 years my senior. Nancy brought her own coffee pot, ground coffee, and Coffee Mate. That day she singlehandedly brewed and drank two pots of coffee. Which fueled her chirping of, “Don’t forget your ‘I Voted!’ sticker and hand-sanitizer on the way out!” All day long.
A first-time election-worker like me, Danielle — a young, pretty brunette — was at least 5’9’ in her cute suede ankle boots. A caffeine fan like Nancy, she arrived equipped with an insulated box containing four Venti Starbucks coffees.
Janet, Renee, Kailynn
These three competent ladies, with decades of election experience between them, managed our polling place. When there was a a problem we poll clerks couldn’t solve, or a provisional ballot to oversee, these women were there for us.
Kailynn, the seemingly designated “provisional ballot” filler-outer, urged me to learn the process, with her supervision. By the end of the day, I could complete 80% of the steps, then call her over to check my work and finish up.
Observations from the election check-in table
Take it off. Take it all off.
In the 13 hours our polling place was open to the public, we only had to ask six voters to remove promotional campaign gear. For the most part, each voter left their hat on the change-of-address table without a fuss. Plus, one voter flipped his light-up mask inside out.
Mask up. It’s the law.
About the same number of individuals (6) arrived without a mask. Being extroverted and perpetually friendly, I took on the task of asking the maskless to cover their faces.
“Hi, sir! We’re asking all voters to please wear a mask today. In that basket there, we’ve provided brand new ones. Thank you so much!”
I will say, there was one dear man I did not ask to mask. He was older. Diminuitive and frail. And breathing heavily. I wasn’t sure if he had respiratory issues or anxiety. Either way, I decided not to add to his distress.
The saying, “A well-oiled machine?” Yeah, that was us.
More than once I saw the seasoned election workers peering over at our poll clerk table. To me, their expressions communicated a certain respect and appreciation. The four of us had little or no election day experience, and yet, we politely and efficiently processed 1,002 voters.
In case you’re wondering about our election worker tasks, here’s a typical transaction:
- Ask for driver’s license and/or voter’s registration. I prefer having both.
- Find the voter in the system.
- Check that their name, address, and birthday are the same in both places.
- Ask them to sign the iPad with their finger or the stylus.
- Make sure their signatures match.
- If anything seems amiss, ask for a second opinion, from another poll worker or one of the managers.
Thanks be to you.
As I printed out each ballot and voter number slip, I thanked each individual for voting. If they brought their kids, I thanked them, as well. “You are so smart to shadow your mom/dad today. This will prepare you to vote someday.”
Want to meet some voters?
It’s my first time!
So many young people voted with us. If someone’s birth year was 1999, or in the early 2000’s, I’d ask if this was their first time voting. Invariably, their eyes would light up and they’d grin.
“It is! It is! And I am so excited!”
First she was afraid. She was petrified.
Early in the day, a timid woman came to my check-in station. Her hands shook and she confessed she was very afraid, though she didn’t say why. I gently told her to take her time, that we’d answer all questions and help her in any way she needed. “Thank you so much for your kindness,” she said before she moved on.
I have to do this. Vote in this election.
One lady, older and well-dressed, approached the table pushing a walker. “I tried to come this morning,” she told me, “but I didn’t feel well. I’m here now because I have to do this. It’s so important!”
Her long, oval fingernails didn’t allow her to use her finger on the sign-in screen. She also had trouble with the stylus, since any touch of skin on the screen prevents a signature. Together, after a dozen tries and encouragement from me, Crystal, and Rob, she managed to sign the iPad.
The process exhausted her though, so Chuck, one of the other election workers, helped her to an election machine, then produced a chair so she could sit while voting.
Are you Scottish?
In the afternoon, the radiant smile of a handsome, bearded young man nearly blinded me. “My, aren’t we happy?” I teased.
“If I were any happier, I’d dance all around this polling place!” He informed me.
“That would make you a… Never mind,” I said.
Studying his driver’s license, I noted his name. I glanced up. “Glen Ian. Are you Scottish?”
He shook his head, smiling. “But my mother has a thing for Scottish men.”
“Does she love Sean Connery?” I asked.
“Doesn’t everyone?” was his cheeky response.
Better late than never.
When our doors opened at 6:30 a.m., there’d been a long line of folks waiting to vote. But that was the only time we had a queue to speak of. There’d been no after work rush, as we’d anticipated. Instead, our polling place stayed steadily busy all day.
By seven o’clock that night, we election workers were feeling the length of the day. Still, we willed more voters to arrive. We wanted our count to reach at least a thousand.
At 7:15 pm, a woman staggered through our doors, her chest heaving.
“Thank God, I made it before you closed,” she huffed as she searched her purse for identification. “I’m sorry I’m so winded. I’m a smoker. And I’m stressed.”
Once again, Chuck brought forth a chair so the woman could rest before heading down the hall to vote. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d missed this!”
Meanwhile out in the parking lot…
There was one blemish on the day. An obnoxious electioneer out in the parking lot. At first he simply handed out promotional material for his candidate. Then he began stopping cars. Later he commenced to yelling at people.
One of the poll managers went out frequently to monitor his behavior. He was shrewd enough to maintain the required distance from the door. He also quit yelling whenever she appeared.
Still, some voters were annoyed. Others were shaken. Later that night at home, at a friend’s urging, I filed a complaint with an organization that investigates voter intimidation.
“My heart is full.”
Confession: That saying drives me nuts.
Because it’s so very overused. And yet, I felt that exact full-heart feeling on election day.
To participate in this very important process was positively invigorating. And to see the lengths so many people went to in order to vote was poignant.
Whenever a voter sincerely thanked me and my fellow poll workers, I told them, “It was my pleasure!” And it was. It absolutely was.