This year, for the first time, I had the rare opportunity to work behind the scenes—and at the front counter, too—during the early voting period at the Putnam County Election Commission. My take-away? It’s mind-boggling what it takes to orchestrate an election. Because I’ve served as a poll worker for several years, I thought I had some notion of how things work. A couple of weeks before the election, I would attend the requisite one-hour training session and receive my instruction packet. On Election Day, I would show up an hour before the polls opened and do my not-very-difficult job. Twelve hours later, I was done.
Who knew what it took to get me to that point?
I never thought about the thousands of pieces of paper that had to be photocopied, collated, stapled or hole-punched and put into folders and three-ring binders so that every poll worker at all twenty-four Putnam County precincts would have their job materials and instructions close at hand.
It never occurred to me that all the ink pens (black for some tasks, red for others) had to be tested to make sure they worked and then rubber banded into sets to be sent out to the precincts. One afternoon, as he watched me perform this task, Election Commissioner Terry Herrin quipped, “Know what’s the worst thing about the pen-testing job? Somebody has to do it.”
Although I’ve hung sample ballots on the wall at several different precincts over the years, I never thought about the folks who painstakingly attached those ballots to the poster. No easy task when the ballot is several pages thick.
Somebody has to stamp the election date on thousands of “Applications for Ballot.” And cut apart and bundle countless I VOTED stickers.
The filing never ends. Each early voter receives a sheet of paper entitled “Early Voting by Personal Appearance.” These have to be filed daily, alphabetically and by precinct. The next day, they have to be merged with the files from all the previous days. No big deal on days when only a couple of hundred people vote. But on days when the number tops a thousand, look out.
During lunch breaks, I worked up front. Which is way more stimulating than testing ink pens because you get to interact with the voters. And study them.
How many were left-handed? About ten percent.
Who had more trouble finding their voter registration card and photo ID in their wallets—men or women? Men, overwhelmingly.
How many voters asked if they were supposed to include their middle initial when signing the application for ballot? Just about all of them.
The most fun part of working up front was the interesting things people said. When I asked one voter to confirm her address, she rattled it off. “I’ve been living in that house for fifty-one years,” she said. “It’s starting to feel like home.” I laughed. “I’m happy as a clam there,” she added. “I don’t plan to move till they put me in a pine box. Then I’ll be in the graveyard just up the road.”
My favorite comment came from a voter who asked if I was that lady who writes for the paper. When I told him yes, he said “You look just like yourself.” I told him a remark like that might get him mentioned in my column. And sure enough, it did.
(March 6, 2016)