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 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 back yard 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. My friend Juliette posted on Facebook she’d been picked to work. At my request, she sent me a phone number to call since my online inquiry yielded no response.
After receiving my message, 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.
I desperately desired to be a “real live” election worker.
And the next day I was. Some woman had attended the 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 learned why the lady bailed. The process, including that of helping someone cast a “provisional ballot,” intimidated me, as well as 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. 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 reviewed with me how to check-in and validate each voter, receive a surrendered mail-in ballot, fill out a provisional ballot and more. We also had to ask anyone wearing a promotional item for any candidate to remove it, and we had to ask people without a mask to don one from the basket provided.
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.
In order to wake up at 4 a.m., I went to bed at 9 p.m. on election eve. 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 a.m., 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.
My election coworkers included a single mother at least 20 years my junior, a man wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hat that proved popular with male voters, and a cheerful woman who brought her own coffee pot and coffee. Our polling place was managed by three women with decades of experience. When there was a a problem we poll clerks couldn’t solve, or a provisional ballot to oversee, these women were there for us.
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.
About the same number of individuals 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!”
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 on Tuesday.
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.”
A lot of young people voted with us on Tuesday. If someone’s birth year was 1999, or in the early 2000s, I’d ask if this was their first time voting. Invariably, their eyes would light up and they’d grin. “It is. And I am so excited!”
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.
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. After a dozen tries and with our encouragement, 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.
In the afternoon, the radiant smile of a 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.
Our polling place stayed steadily busy all day, but without long lines. By seven o’clock that night, we 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 p.m., 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!”
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.
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 is my pleasure!” And it was. It absolutely was.