On November 8, 2022, I set my gps for a recycling center in my town that is a polling place for a community near the zoo.
As I approached at 5:55 a.m., the streets were dark. “Road Closed” signs blocked the way ahead while an ambiguous, “Your destination is on the right” led me to a parking lot that was actually not my destination.
For the next half hour, I wandered the vicinity on foot, gingerly making my way across sandy sections of what had been the road, removed for repair. The gps seemed more accurate with its walking directions. So I finally was able to piece together that my destination was beyond the closed road and to the right. I returned to my car and navigated to my true destination, verified by the “Vote Here” signs.
I arrived 30 minutes late to fulfill my role as an election poll worker.
For the next 15 hours, I was assigned to greet voters, ensuring that they had an application to vote (even if they had registered to vote) and a pen (many of which disappeared throughout the day).
The entrance was located next to the tabulator. This meant, that actually, my most important role was to instruct people on how to insert their ballot into the tabulator. Without catching the cardboard secrecy sleeve. All from 10 feet away. As specified by law.
The trick is to feed the paper ballot through the cutout on the left of the secrecy sleeve. Meanwhile, gently pulling back on the sleeve. You need a light touch on the sleeve so just the paper can be fed into the tabulator. The sleeve does not need to go into the tabulator. The tabulator does not like cardboard. Just paper.
When the ballot is officially hoovered up into the tabulator, a brief moment of suspense follows. Cheers are reserved for when the tabulator returns the message, “Ballot successfully cast.”
If you have checked the bubbles, rather than darkening them completely, your ballot will be returned. If you have over voted, you ballot will be returned. If the machine is being grumpy, your ballot may inexplicably be returned and you can try to insert it with the backside up, because the tabulator will take the ballot from any direction.
Ch-chunk. Plink. Success! The sound of a paper edge being deposited into a chamber.
“Yay!” Now, forearms can be raised in joyful fists.
Finally, the reward! Not only the satisfaction of being an engaged citizen, but of peeling the back off an “I voted” sticker!
People who voted by mail, sheepishly came in to claim a sticker. Some people would leave with 4 stickers, explaining they were for friends who had voted by mail.
Children riding in strollers left with “I voted” stickers on their foreheads.
A child who was stopped from jamming his parent’s ballot into the tabulator because his mother explained, “It is literally against the law,” left with an “I voted” sticker.
A one-day old baby whose parents stopped to vote on their way home from the hospital, left with an “I voted” sticker.
Several shiny new first time voters left with “I voted” stickers.
An adult wearing a Winnie-the-Pooh backpack,
A person in a “Welcome to the sh*t show” tshirt,
Someone sporting “Mondays are okay, it’s my job that sucks” who appeared to come in with his boss and coworkers on a break,
Nuns in full habit,
People who had lost their absentee ballots but stayed to find out how they could have it spoiled and vote in person,
A senior using a walker,
A voter in a t-shirt that read, “Voting: It’s better than complaining on the internet,”
A mother with 2 children who sat under the polling booth while she filled in her ballot,
Two women who high-fived after casting their vote . . .
These and many others left with an “I voted” sticker proudly displayed on their person.
People who did not leave with an “I voted” sticker included several men in suits and a woman in a dress. But they had, in fact, voted.
At the end of the day, shoulders a bit achy and my watch indicating 30,000 steps (equivalent to a half marathon), we applauded our chairperson, Barb. She had taken the day off of a cleaning job for the sixth election in a row. As we signed the printout from the tabulator and assisted in performing other election worker duties, someone shared that a voter told her that everybody at this polling station had been so cheerful this voter felt like the experience was like being on a tv show.
One woman had used my name all day beyond the point when I could politely ask hers. So when she had gone on break, I asked another worker what her name was. Walking to our cars, as she wished me well, I confidently said, “It was great working with you, Janna!”
She said, “Did you call me Janna? My name is Amber.”
“Uh, sorry! It was nice to meet you!”
Amber graciously replied, “I’ll definitely be back next year. Hope to see you then!”
Being an election poll worker is certainly an opportunity to get to know the people in your community better.