For the second time in two years, I engaged in a civic engagement that I hadn’t done in decades. You may recall that I worked the 2020 Census as an enumerator after having engaged in the same task back in 1990.
This past Election Day, I worked as an election inspector, a/k/a poll worker. That was something I hadn’t done since the mid-1970s, when I lived in my college town of New Paltz, NY.
I must have gotten an email on October 24 or 25 from the state Board of Elections stating that they were seeking people to work the polls. Still, I was surprised to get a call from the Albany County government phone number almost immediately. The gentleman said that there was training for folks on Wednesday, October 27 from 10 am until noon. Could I make it? Sure.
The last time I was a poll worker, they had heavy machines with mechanical buttons, and a lever to cast one’s vote. For the past few years, they’ve used an optical scan paper ballot system: “Voters mark their votes by filling in an oval…on a paper ballot. The paper ballots are scanned… at the polling place.” But the paper ballot still exists in case of an audit.
They also had a ballot-marking device, “used primarily to accommodate voters with disabilities.” To the latter point, our trainers made it quite clear that we should not reference the machine as one only for people with handicapping conditions.
We had a 48-page manual describing it all. The Seals Report involves all of the sealed compartments that needed numbers recorded at the beginning and the end of the day. This function alone would make anyone thinking an election could be fixed quite likely to reconsider. Although we could not ASK for ID, if it – driver’s license or card from the verification mailing – were offered, it’d make the process simpler. We wouldn’t have to ask for their address and date of birth.
The requirement was to get to our respective polling places by 5:30 a.m. I went to bed early, around 9:45, and lay there for an hour. So I got up checked my email for about 75 minutes, then went to sleep. I woke up about 3:45, too late to go back to sleep. So I got dressed and eventually rode my bicycle to the polling place at Maria College, which was only 1.2 miles (about 1.9 km) away, a very up and down path, of course in the dark.
One of our original trainers said that there would be election inspectors who would act as though they were in charge, but they’re not. Except, of course, those who’ve done it more often will inevitably take over. This was particularly true in this room with these large computer screens overhead. I wouldn’t have configured the room so that the monitors could whack us if we stood up too quickly.
In any case, we were more or less ready by 6 a.m. despite the building not being opened until 5:38. The voter traffic waxed and waned, of course, with a good crowd around 7:30, almost no one at 10 a.m.,. and a line out the door at 6:30 p.m. There were four tables of poll workers, two from the 14th ward, and two from the 9th, where I sat. One of our team was a regular, but the other three were newbies, including a woodworker who was 80, and a politically interested young man of 18.
80 was in competition with other tables to give out the most stickers. He was fairly new in town, so he didn’t recognize Kathy Sheehan, the mayor when she briefly came in. I talked politics with 18 since I had lived through a half-century of events he had heard of (Watergate, Newt Gingrich, et al) before he was born; of course, that didn’t make me feel old at all, did it?
We were all supposed to take 45 minutes off for lunch, and another 45 or 60 minutes (I heard both) for dinner. But I doubt anyone even took the 45 the second time because the lines were so crowded.
We ended the process at about 9:30. I got home around 10. Though exhausted, I was so wound up that I didn’t get to bed until midnight or later. But it was worth it because I had supported democracy. And the training and the elections were the only days this year I actually worked for pay.