Due to the unexpected cancellation of a regularly scheduled poll worker, I was asked to work the election yesterday at our voting place. Since the poll inspector is a friend and neighbor and I had some experience poll-watching at this location, I agreed. That in spite having a good idea what the job entailed. It’s hard to say no to a neighbor, add in civic duty and it becomes impossible. Below are few random thoughts on the experience, in no particular order.
1) Nobody does this job for the money although the pay helps election officials attract more capable workers. As a plain old poll worker — “clerk” — my compensation was a little more than current minimum wage but quite a bit less than the minimum wage either Democratic presidential candidate is pushing. The person in charge at each polling place — “poll inspector” — makes somewhat more. I don’t know just how much, but I know she earned at least twice that, plus the inspector’s hours are even longer than a clerk’s which are 6 am to 8 pm, minimum.
2) The primary ballots for both parties were extremely confusing. This led to many, many spoiled ballots at our polling place, I would estimate close to 100. Chances are it was the same story around the state. The issue was the delegate votes. The machines would (rightly) reject a ballot with votes for delegates that did not match the presidential candidate selected or votes for too many delegates. As some of you know, the Democratic ballot told voters to select up to 4 female delegates from a list for each candidate and up to 4 male delegates from another list for each candidate. At the beginning of the day some poll workers did not understand this and an awful lot of voters, seeing the ballot for the first time, were completely flummoxed by it. The Republican ballot solved the “vote for 4” confusion by dividing delegate races into “places” where you vote for one delegate in each of 4 places for each candidate. Combined with a big field of candidates, this made for a very crowded ballot and people still voted for delegates that didn’t match the selected candidate — possibly out of a sometimes expressed desire to support more than one of the actual candidates. The folks who design the ballots (is that the parties or the Sec. of State’s office?) need to make them clearer in the future. Yes, poll workers should have a better understanding of the ballot, but a poll worker only gets involved if a voter asks for assistance or the machine rejects a ballot. Neither circumstance makes the voter feel good about the process. Voting ought to be a straightforward process that leaves you with a good feeling, not a difficult and embarrassing ordeal.
3) Our voter lists don’t seem to be as well maintained as they used to be, 10 years or so back. Several voters pointed out family members still on the list who are long deceased or long moved out of the area. On the other side of the coin, quite a few recent registrants had their cards in hand but were not on the printed voter list. They still got to vote but it took more of their time and more of the poll inspector’s time. It seems like this could be improved with technology and some attention from the powers that be. Many people had to vote a provisional ballot yesterday because of some issue with their registration. If things don’t improve before November the general election will be ugly.
4) Why doesn’t the state of Alabama have a single standard for names, especially women’s names? If the DL lists maiden name as middle name, shouldn’t the voter registration follow the same standard? Apparently it does not.
5) On the subject of names, the voter rolls also seem to have issues with names like McSomething or OWhatever. Voter Jane McDoe might be found as McDoe, Jane or several pages previously as Mc Doe, Jane. Which also leads to more delays and angst for the voter.
6) Because this election was a primary, workers had to ask which ballot each voter wanted. Unhelpful responses included the following:
- Can I have both?
- Is there more than one?
- I’m a Christian and I fly the American flag, what do you think?
- The one for patriots.
Quite a few people just asked for “the blue one” or “the white one” which was fine and perfectly clear. As far as I saw, workers at our location were polite and courteous to these and all other responses from voters, which is as it should be. There was no ridicule, no pushing of one ballot over the other, no pressure. After all, these are our neighbors and this is our community. We truly do live in a good place. We are neither as divided nor as self-righteous as some other areas may have been.
7) It’s a good idea to sort out your identification card before you get out of the vehicle when you go to vote, for your own sake as well as for efficiency. No less than three men and one woman offered me their debit cards instead of drivers licenses yesterday, one woman spilled all her (many) credit cards on the floor trying to extract the license from her wallet and one unfortunate voter actually dropped a debit card which was not discovered until after she had left the premises. Voting is good, but don’t lose your stuff in the process.
8) In a class by himself regarding identification was the man dressed in full candidate regalia who came in, spent maximum time examining every single one of the many items in his wallet looking for ID, finally found it, was not on our voter roll after all, went to the poll inspector and asked to be looked up at more than one possible address and eventually left without voting at all. Having spent maximum time inside to polling place displaying his candidate’s name. Nice dodge around the electioneering rule. We will remember you next time, buddy.
9) If you are politically tuned in, this will come as a shock, but some people don’t know much about political parties and don’t particularly identify with one. These voters did however know about some candidate or other and wanted the ballot ” X is on.” “X” by the way, could be anyone from a presidential candidate down to county commissioner and was more likely to be someone at the lower end of the ballot.
10) Ours is a fairly right leaning precinct so I didn’t see an awful lot of the young, new voters Bernie Sanders has been trying to bring into the process. When a voter who fit that mold did come in, often saying it was their first time to vote and they were unsure what to do, at least half asked for a Republican ballot. A reminder that people are individuals, not stereotypes, I guess.
11) Also, there are still a fair number of older white Democrats in rural Alabama, even in this increasingly Republican area. You absolutely cannot tell by looking at a person which ballot they will ask for. As a corollary, several people asked to be sure picking a particular party ballot yesterday would not lock them into that party for future elections. Democrats fiddling in the Republican presidential, Senate or county commission primary? Republicans voting for the least electable Democrat? People being people?
12) Another word about stereotypes, people of color don’t automatically ask for a Democratic ballot every time. This seems especially true for younger voters. Ben Carson also made a fairly strong showing at our location. Related? I don’t know, but better not take those voters for granted in the future.
You, yes you personally, should consider signing up as a poll worker.
This is not an easy job, in any sense.
- Setting up and breaking down a polling place involves a significant amount of lifting, pulling, pushing and otherwise moving heavy objects.
- It is dark when you get there and dark when you leave. The weather is likely to be unpleasant.
- There is no lunch or dinner break.
- Poll workers not only have to set up in advance of the election, they have to break it all down after the last voter has left, secure the ballots, records and results and pack up a ton of stuff, including all used and unused ballots (many, many heavy boxes) to be returned to the courthouse that very night.
- And they have to clean up the polling place as well.
So, the work is hard, the hours are long, the pay is ok at best, you will have to be courteous, polite and helpful to a complete cross section of the public who may not be at their best — but you should still do this if you can. It will leave you with a really good feeling about democracy, your community and yourself.
I found being a poll worker much more rewarding than being a poll watcher, who is a near powerless outsider only allowed observe the process. Poll workers are the essential cogs in our election process so please get involved if you can.
I believe your local probate judge’s office is the the place to volunteer. November is just around the corner, electorally speaking, and Alabama will need a host of poll workers for the general election. Help democracy. Be one.