26 August 2010

Poll Working

I mentioned in my last post that I had been a poll worker for the election on Tuesday, and I gave a short summary of how that went. So for this post, I thought I'd explore the topic a bit more in-depth.

The tale begins over two months ago.... I signed up online at the elections poll worker signup website to work at the polls. My information was to be forwarded to recruiters who would call people in each precinct to find enough workers. Well, I waited.... And I waited.... And I continued to wait until I got bored with waiting. I re-entered my information on the website, called the Maricopa County Recorder's Office and spoke with someone there, and finally got fed up with not being given the courtesy of a phone call. So I wrote Secretary of State Ken Bennett an email, which I am sure someone on his staff read. It went much like this: "Dear Mr. Secretary: My name is Andrew M. and I have helped out on your campaigns in the past and met you a few times at various events. I doubt you remember me. I am looking to become a poll worker for this primary election and have as-yet not been called by any of these recruiters for the positions. Can your office please forward my information to whomever needs it to get this process rolling?"

And the next day, I got an email and a phone call from recruiters. Ta-da!

Anyway, I was asked in my little phone interview to be a Judge for my precinct up in Mesa. That basically entails doing whatever is asked of me by the Inspector - the leader of operations for the precinct. I readily agreed, and signed up for a two-hour training session at the local library the next week. That training focused on learning the equipment, getting a very general overview of the various forms and operations associated with the polls, and getting a lecture on being nondiscriminatory toward "persons with disabilities."

Last Tuesday, I got a call from my Inspector letting me know about the Monday evening set-up meeting the day before the primary. We needed to meet at 5:00pm at the polling location and get everything ready to go for the election. That included setting up the machines, charging backup batteries, posting information notices, and putting together the voting booth stands. Nothing major, and it took about one hour. I met my co-workers for the first time there: all older women and all extremely nice. Our Inspector was Ruby, a first-time poll worker like me, and we worked together to get everything on her sheet done (Inspectors have many more tasks than the others). The other three women - Bev, Deborah, and Barbara - were all either Judges or Clerks. We also shared the location with the precinct next to ours, so the six people working there were also setting up their identical equipment at the same time we were.

The next morning, I woke up at 4:50am, jumped in the shower for a few minutes, got dressed, packed my lunch, and was out the door by 5:20am. It took me all of 3 minutes to get the the Baptist Church where our precinct polling place was located. I arrived before anyone else, and a couple minutes before Tony, the gentleman from the other precinct who had the keys to the doors. Our immediate task, as everyone else showed up by 5:30am, was to put out the signs directing people to the polls, put up the remaining outside flyers, set up the 75-foot electioneering limit, and turn everything on. It took a half hour, and at exactly 6:00am sharp, I got to yell out the door "Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! The polls are now open!"

Let me paint a picture real quick. The church annex where we were was a thirty by thirty-foot square, with the altar area encompassing one-fourth of the room divided from the rest of the room by partitions. The result was an L-shaped expanse of empty floor. Coming through the doors, you were immediately faced by those partitions, to the left, down that part of the "L" was our precinct's equipment, and down the right side was the other precinct. Lining the partitions and the end walls of the L were plastic and metal voting booths with white "privacy screens" around them made of PVC plastic. Each screen had a "voting instructions" paper taped to it showing the voters how to mark their ballots. Down each side of the L, each precinct got three wooden folding tables which we set up to have three separate functions: the first was for checking in and showing IDs and signing the poll registers; the second held all the different ballots (REP, DEM, LBT, GRN, Nonpartisan - each in two variations depending whether you were in the City of Mesa or on county land); and the third was for provisional ballots and disabled voter sign-ins. Next to the far tables, the disabled voter touchscreen voting machine was set up. It's a big blue box set atop four aluminum legs with a big LCD screen raised to the vertical position surrounded by a black privacy screen. Attached to the screen is a big printer which records the voter's choices. Next to that, the Insight machine was set up. This is a big blue tub topped by an electronic scanner whch scans each ballot as it is cast and records each vote. The front of the scanner has an electric readout which shows how many ballots have been cast. The remainder of the room was empty space.

Throughout the day, there are basically four jobs for the pollworkers to focus on. First, two people check IDs, find the voters in the poll register, and have them sign in. A third person hands the voter their ballot and explains what to do with it. A fourth person stands at the Insight machine and hands the voter an "I Voted Today" sticker as they cast their ballot (the most important part!). The Inspector directs traffic for the most part, and the final person mans the "Provisional Ballot" table. Provisional ballots are used when a voter is not in the register but is registered in the precinct with proper ID, if the voter fails to bring proper ID to the polls, or needs a regular ballot if they did not fill out their early ballot. I ended up doing a little of each job, though I focused on the provisional table and manning the Insight (we were short one person, so I did both). I liked the provisional table mostly because it is all about problem solving. Can't find your precinct? Go to the provisional table! Didn't bring the right IDs? Talk to the provisional table guy! Got an early ballot but forgot to mail it? Come see me! Basically, anyone who wasn't on the register and ready to go got to come see me so I could figure out what was up with them. It was fun and challenging.

So anyway, at 6am the polls opened to much fanfare and a huge line of people... just kidding. The people who did come trickled in very slowly all day. There were 30-40 minute periods of utterly no one and groups of two or three at a time occasionally. We were open from 6am to 7pm, and our precinct recorded 79 votes and 10 provisional ballots. I did get several people who came to the provisional table who were in the wrong place, so I got to figure out where to send them. Maybe another 30 people. We also had about 100 or so people come in and drop off early ballots in their signed, sealed original envelopes. The other precinct with us recorded 110 votes, a few early ballots, and a couple of provisionals as well. All told, somewhere around 230 ballots were actually cast between both our precincts and we had around 330-350 people come in during our 13-hour shift. That's about 26 people per hour entering the building and 17 ballots per hour being cast. Like I said, there were periods of boredom.

But we all did amuse ourselves, talking about out lives - I got asked about grad school, NAU, my future plans, etc. - reading the manuals and trying to figure out election-related things like voter challenges, and such. Everyone brought some sort of reading material. Several magazines, and a few novels (James Patterson, I saw). I brought two novels and an electronic card game. I tried reading the books, but I wasn't into it, though I did play a few rounds of the game.

The whole day, everyone was very friendly who came in to cast a vote. We only had two people who were a bit miffed, mainly because they'd been shuttled around to a bunch of different places trying to find the right polling location. One gentleman in particular came to me at the provisional table having been to three places already. This was the fourth. He was unhappy that he wasn't on our roster either, and rightly so. The other precincts should have found him on the maps and confirmed his correct polling location. After conferring with my maps for a few minutes and having him point out exactly where his house was located, we finally found the right precinct and got him on his way correctly.

At 6:00pm, I went outside with Jon, the Marshal from the other precinct to yell that there was one hour left until the polls closed. Then at 6:30pm, 6:45pm, and 6:59pm, we did the same thing as the winds picked up and we saw a wall of water go crashing through the neighborhoods to our west. At 7:00pm, I yelled that the polls were now closed. There was no one in line, so we immediately began to pack up the equipment and seal and certify the ballots and registers. Immediately after the polls close, there is a very strict procedure that the Inspector and two Judges have to go through, so I took part in that. Here's a quick rundown:

1. Immediately (for real, immediately!) the totals tape from the Insight, the memory disk from the Insight, and the memory disk from the Edge (disabled) machine go into a pink bubble pack, which is sealed and which goes into a clear Official Bag, sealed with an official seal, signed across the seal onto the bag by three people, and resealed again with a tamper-evident seal. That pink bag is immediately taken by one poll worker to the collection site. Within about 10 minutes of the polls closing, it was out the door.

2. The printer from the Edge machine is taken and bagged and tamper-evident zip-tie sealed. Same with the Edge card activator.

3. The voted ballots are all taken out of the Insight tub and placed into a black canvas bag, which is itself tamper-evident zip-tie sealed. Unused ballots are placed back into the tub along with all the nonessential equipment and supplies (pens, flag, signs, etc), and the tub is locked.

4. Used tamper-evident seals (from the memory packs and from the initial set-up of the machines), along with the poll registers, rosters, poll worker payroll sheets, provisional information books, machine lock keys, and other things are placed into a yellow canvas bag, which is, again, zip-tied shut.

5. Official seals are used to seal the tubs containing the provisional ballots and early ballots dropped off at the precinct.

6. The tubs, along with the printer, black and yellow bags, and a couple other items are then driven down to the collection area by two members of differing parties - in our case, the Republican Inspector and a Democrat Judge. There, they are taken by elections officials and forwarded to the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, which counts the ballots and checks the provisionals and early ballots.

Long process? Not really. We were done in one hour flat and out the door on the way home by 8:00pm. It was really a good time working at the polls, though, overall. It was long, sometimes tedious, and sometimes boring, but we got paid about $100 for the day and if it were busier (which I expect the general election will) it would have been great! The only thing it needs is more young people working... don't get me wrong, my team was awesome and very cohesive, but it seems to me that if youths wanted to get active in the political process in some way, this would be perfect!

As for the future, I plan on potentially being the Inspector for the general election for the precinct. Having assisted Ruby, I feel confident I know enough of the procedures to make it run just as smoothly as this time around. I can definitely handle the added responsibility, and Ruby said she'd rather not do it next time. So yeah.

Yay for elections!


  1. Interesting stuff!

    I went to a tea party meeting once (not a big rally/protest with country music and pyrotechnics, but just a meeting) and I was probably the only one there under 40. I felt out of place. The vast majority of people there were probably over 60. I've noticed that's how voter turnout is, too, and audiences at plays- it's all old folks. Maybe it's because old folks are wiser than young folks.

    Job 12:12

    "With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding."

  2. Telemoonfa: I much prefer the quote "Almost everything that is great has been done by youth." - Benjamin Disraeli