Four-thirty came awfully early yesterday morning but that was what time I needed to be up to be at my day-job by 6am. Four-thirty? Day-job? Yep, you read that right. But in this case my job really was for only a day although at 4:30am I was questioning whether even that was too much. I served as a poll worker at yesterday's primary election.
It's something I've talked about doing for several years and just never got organized enough to get the paperwork in at the right time to do it. Here, as I suspect is the case in most every place, they're always looking for poll workers and after listening to my friend Durlene talk about how much she enjoyed working the elections when she was employed in county government, I got my act together to do it this time. I figured the primary was a good place to start since turn-out is lighter.
Although the day was long (6am to almost 8pm), it was both interesting and enjoyable. I might have guessed about some of the things that went on behind the scenes but that's what it would have been...a guess. Now I know how many controls there are on the ballots to be sure they're all accounted for and handled properly. And the efforts to be sure that the people wanting to vote are who they say they are and that they get to vote but in the proper polling place. It was an education to be sure but probably one more citizens should have.
My job was Inspector. I was one of six seated at a table, each with a section of the list of voters registered in our precinct. When the voter arrived, I was to inspect their identification documents and signature to be sure they were who they said they were then give them a ballot, either Republican, Democrat or Non-Partisan. Florida requires voters to present a photo and signature ID and since both are on the Florida's drivers license, that's what most people use. Since I was new, I was seated between two experienced Inspectors who were able to answer any questions that came up, mostly about when names or addresses didn't match between the voter rolls and the IDs presented. Most of those got to vote, even if they had to drive to another precinct; only a few were instructed to re-register so they would be eligible in November.
It might sound boring but it wasn't. First of all, I got a chance to see a lot of my neighbors since it was my home precinct where I was serving. And there were a few "you've got to be kidding" moments, like when the lady came back 15 minutes after voting and wanted her ballot back so she could change her vote. I'm not sure how she expected us to know which one would be hers but needless to say, that didn't happen. Or the woman who turned around from the voting booth to tell us she didn't know the candidates in a particular race so she was Googling them on her smartphone. Apparently the large sign at the door asking voters to turn off their cellphones needed bells and whistles to get her attention.
One of the most exciting events of the day involved the tabulating machine. We're not like those folks in South Florida with their hanging chads; we mark ballots which go through a scanner to be counted and then drop down into a large bin underneath where they wait until all voting is completed. The voter feeds his ballot into the slot then watches the screen for a message that says the ballot was accepted. Occasionally, it rejects one...like if you voted for two people in the same race or put marks on the ballot somewhere other than in the little circle but generally it operates pretty smoothly.
On this occasion, however, the message on the screen read that the ballot was counted but not in the bin. The Clerk (who's in charge of the voting operations at the precinct), her assistant, and the tabulator (who's in charge of the scanning machine) were all in a panic; they'd never seen this message. There were no instructions in the manual for such an event. Clearly, it was time for quick call to the Supervisor of Elections Office. The answer? Give the machine a sharp whack on the back of the bin. The Deputy Clerk gave it a kick and the ballot must have finished it's path because the screen changed to display the accepted message. Hey, if it works when your candy bar hangs up in a vending machines, why not a ballot counter.
The polls closed at 7pm and we set to work immediately breaking down the voting booths, sorting the ballots by type and counting to be certain all the numbers balanced. It was right the first time and we were out of there by 7:50pm. While I wasn't a fan of the 4:30am part, I did enjoy the experience. I plan to be inspecting again in November. Things should be very interesting then.