Monday, November 12, 2012

My Day Working The Polls

It's the moment you've all been waiting for - my recap of working at the polls on election day. I hope it lives up to your expectations because I'm not even sure I can remember every detail of the day and this is already going down as one of the longest posts of all time. 

On Tuesday (November 6) morning, I woke up around 4:30 and got my shower and got ready for the day. I had packed up my backpack the night before as well as baked some pumpkin bread and chocolate chip cookies for us to snack on throughout the day. I also took a bag of Hershey's bars (left over from Halloween) and some crackers. I was out the door by 10 til six and at the precinct about two minutes later. It was a cold and rainy morning and we had to wait on someone from the church to arrive and unlock the doors.

We were inside by 6:00 and started to set up right away. I had printed out some signs that said "A thru L" and "M thru Z" as my plan was to divide the alphabet so that we could get more people through the line. I also had planned on us using two clerk's books and two voters' books and had an email from the probate judge's office stating that we could have a book at each division of the alphabet. I expected some push back from the old folks on using two books and I was correct. They once again thought that only one book at a time could be used and my email proved otherwise. For those of you who may not be familiar with these books, the clerk's book is where we print the name of the voter and the voter's book is where the voter signs on the corresponding line.

Before we got deep into the throes of setting up the voting machine and signing all the hundreds of items we needed to sign, we took our pledge. We also had a couple of poll watchers show up to observe the goings on of the precinct and they had to be sworn in as well. We got everything set up and ready for opening and a few minutes before seven a third poll watcher showed up. As the inspector started swearing her in, I informed him that she could not be sworn in as only one person from each party was allowed at a precinct, which he did not realize - the first of many rules the inspector was unaware of. The lady was kind enough to leave without any push back as she was also aware of the one person per party poll watcher rule.

We opened the polls at exactly 7:00 a.m. and began marking off names as fast as our fingers would allow. There was a rush of people when the doors opened and soon the line was backed up to get in, to get a ballot and to use a privacy booth. Our inspector had only ordered six privacy booths as he didn't think there would be many people to vote. I finally got so tired of seeing people waiting on a booth and a ballot that I stood up and announced that if they didn't need a privacy booth they were welcome to grab a folding chair from the wall and pull it up to any of the tables, and many people did just that. Finally, about 10:00 a.m. the lines started slowing down and we had a steady stream of people for the remainder of the day, but also a few lulls when there was no one or only one or two people coming in. By the end of the day, things had slowed down considerably and the last hour was very slow with maybe only 20 people coming in. If I never work another election, I will at least know it's better to come in the evening to vote.

We ordered lunch from Steak-Out and it arrived around 11:30 or so. I was finally able to take a break and eat around 1:00 p.m. For dinner, Jackie was kind enough to stop at Subway and get me a sandwich before she headed home for the evening.

Here are some things that happened throughout the day:

I ran into a situation that I never in my life thought about encountering. A young man came in to vote and per the Alabama voter's web site, our precinct was the one in which he was slated to cast his vote; however, he was not listed on our voters' lists. After several attempts to the Board of Registrars office, I was finally able to get through to someone to find out why the young man was not on our voter's list. As it turns out, the young man had recently been convicted of a crime and I was then instructed to call the supervisor of the Board of Registrar's office but I was never able to get through to her. I informed the young man of the situation and asked him if his recent conviction was a felony - his reply was yes. I then told him that persons with a felony record are no longer allowed to cast a vote. He seemed okay with the answer and left without a fight. I will never forget that guy's name or how sad it made me to tell him that he could not vote as a result of his actions.

The poll watchers are not supposed to interact with the voting public; yet, we had one watcher who sat by the voting machine and each time a ballot was marked incorrectly and the machine spit it back out, the poll watcher would stand up and start instructing the voter on what he or she needed to do. I'm here to tell you that I had to bring this to the attention of the inspector on more than one occasion and quite frankly he didn't seem to care. Clearly, he is not as much of a stickler for the rules as I am. After this happened about five or six times, it's a miracle I didn't get up and go off on the inspector. Instead, I just kept reminding him that the watcher needed to sit in silence and leave the voters alone.

The inspector was nowhere to be found any time he was needed. We also us iPads to look up voter information and he doesn't know how to use it, even though he has been to class on the iPad on more than one occasion. Also, any time a phone call needed to be made to the courthouse, he was hesitant to call and either I or someone else ended up doing the calling.

You would not believe how many people show up on voting day wanting to register to vote - the deadline was October 26. You would also not believe the number of people who came in and asked, "I'm not registered, but I want to vote." You would also not believe the number of people who think they can just pop in to any precinct and cast their vote.

We had a lot of people show up at our precinct who vote at another precinct. The district lines were redrawn since the last election so most of the people had voted at our precinct in the past but clearly didn't pay attention to their new voter registration card when they received it in the mail and so they came to our precinct and we had to send them somewhere else. Most of these people voted at precincts close by so it wasn't too big of a deal. We did have to send a handful of folks across town or across the county. One lady who actually works where I do looked up online where she was supposed to vote, but came to our precinct because she just knew that's where she was supposed to vote. When we looked it up, it told us the same place that Google had told her. Why she came to our precinct I have yet to figure out.

Not long after we opened, an older gentleman in a suit and a red hat brought us a bag of hard cinnamon candy. It was super nice of him and was a big help to me because by the time he rolled in around 7:30 a.m., my throat was dry and I was tired of asking people how they were doing and that candy hit the spot and kept me going.

We had a lot of people thank us for being there to work and one man even made an announcement with his booming voice and we received some applause afterwards. That was kind of cool.
I got to see my friend Adam, age 19, vote for the first time in his life. I was at the hospital the day he was born, at his baptism and now watched him cast his first lot in the political arena. He was a late registered voter and on our supplemental list. I was so proud! Way to go Adam! There was another young girl, either 18 or 19, who came in to vote for the first time with her mom. Her mom wanted to take a photo, but there are no photos allowed in the precinct, which was sad for her, but at the same time she was very proud of and excited for her daughter which was nice to see

Towards the end of the day, a man and his daughter came in with a friend. The friend voted in our precinct and the man had given the friend a ride. The daughter tore into the bag of Hershey's I brought and soon was opening the cookies I baked and eating those as well. Then the dad followed suit. One of the other workers headed over and started straightening things up and putting things away so that they wouldn't take anything else. I ended up throwing the rest of the cookies away because, not to be judgmental but, the people didn't look very clean.

There are a lot of stinky and unclean looking people in my precinct. I held my breath on more than one occasion.

I'm sure there are many, many other stories I could tell you about - just ask me the next time I see you. It seems like I remember something new every single day. I think by the end of the day I was kind of in a daze from having been up so long and working non-stop. My hand was cramping from writing so many names and the next day my arm was sore - not even kidding.

At the end of the night, after the polls have closed and the last persons inside the precinct have voted, we open up the machine and take out the ballots and also print tape from the voting machines which provide the results from the precinct. Those ballots that have write-ins go into a separate bin than all the other ballots. The person manning the machine (I could go on for quite a while about this man) took out all the ballots and just threw them in a pile together - in other words, he did not keep the write-ins separate. Now, we have to write in each of the write in votes and turn those in to the probate judge's office. If someone votes for Mickey Mouse, or Elvis, or any other character or dead person, then we still have to count those - they go in one category as "Fictitious". The inspector and every other person there argued with me that we did not have to count those - "just throw them out" is what they said they were told at training. Now, people, if there is one thing I can say about myself it's that in a lecture, I pay attention, take good notes, ask appropriate questions and always come away with more knowledge than when I arrived. I know for a fact that we had to count those votes. I pulled out my notes from class and argued with every one of those people. I finally got out my phone to call the office and the inspector relented and called himself only to find out that I was right. So, we then had to unbox the ballots and separate the write-ins from the others. I still do not think I received all the write-ins because I heard Nick Saban and also Bacon got a vote and I did not see either one of those ballots; but, I did the best I could with what I was given and silently gloated to myself that I was right.

We left the precinct around 8:30 and I was home a few minutes later. The Tide was at my parent's house thanks to my brother's willingness to take care of her while I worked the polls. So, when I got home and changed into some PJs, I crashed on the couch and was out a few minutes after 9:00. I woke up at 12:30 just as the president was going to make a speech. I quickly turned that off and crawled into bed.
It was an exhausting day, y'all, I am not even kidding; but, I loved every minute of it. It was so exciting to see people exercising their right to vote. Our precinct voted 1378 people in the 12 hours we were open. That's an average of 114.8 people per hour! I do plan to bring some of my issues to the attention of the judge's office because I feel like the inspector should be more aware of what is going on and at least know the rules. Other than my few frustrations, it was such an enjoyable day and I cannot wait to do it again in 2014 when we have another round of elections.


Erika said...

Why can't people follow the rules???? They make rules for a reason! Voting is so important and something that should not be taken lightly. Those issues definitely need to be addressed, and I'm glad you stood up when you knew they were doing things wrong!
Glad you had a good day!
So sad about the guy with the felony :(

Melissa said...

That was a very interesting post. I had no idea there were so many rules, but I'm sure they are there for a reason. Good for you for sticking with the rules. I bet there are a lot of rules that get broken out there.