I’m a little behind filing my report on working as an Election Judge at my precinct’s polling station. Apologies for that; one (of two) outcomes of the day that I didn’t expect was to develop a major cold, which I’m sure was exacerbated by interacting with literally hundreds of neighbors who live in my precinct.
I wish I had taken photos of the polling station setup, the crowd, and the election judges in action to share, but the Board of Elections expressly forbade election judges from using cell phones or other technology at any time they were on duty — including lunch breaks. The chief judges were allowed cell phones; they had to communicate with the Board of Elections offices from time to time and to deal with emergency situations, such as when one of the three electronic poll books stopped working right at 6:57 a.m. — three minutes before the polls opened. I was one of the three judges running the poll books — and there was a long line out the door. Thankfully, we were able to get the third poll book up and running within the hour.
The polls opened promptly at 7 a.m. — I remember looking up at the clock. The next time I looked up at the clock (when the line had finally dispersed), it was 9:15 a.m. No kidding. I checked the number of Voter Access Cards I issued at that point — 402.
One of the chief judges came around offering throat lozenges. I took several. My spiel consisted of the following 402 times:
- Good morning. May I have your first and last name?
- Would you confirm your address?
- Would you confirm your day and month of birth?
We weren’t allowed to ask for the year, although most would automatically offered it. Maryland does not check voter identification, unless it is specifically noted on the voter’s registration record.
Then, I’d print out the electronic Voter Access Card, and send the voter on his/her way to the ballot table.
Several of my neighbors and friends showed up in my line. Most of them said hello; we visited for a few minutes, but we couldn’t get too chummy: At least twice while I was there poll watchers were hanging out behind me, watching as I checked voters in, and then, an observer from the Board of Elections visited to make sure everything was running smoothly.
After three hours at the poll books, I rotated to the ballot table, where I assembled the paper ballots and folders for the voters. Yeah, Maryland used paper ballots this time, which were presented to voters in legal-sized folders. The spiel went as follows:
- Maryland is using a paper ballot this election.
- It is two pages, with selections for you to review on both sides.
- Fill in the oval completely, no stray marks, or the scanner will not be able to read your choices, and will reject the ballot.
- When you’ve made your choices, return the ballot to the folder, and take the folder to the scanner.
I assembled and distributed about 200 ballots for the hour and a half I was at the station.
My last station was the scanner. There were two scanners set up near the exit of the polling station. My job was to stand next to the scanner and instruct the voter how to insert their ballot into the device, and to instruct the voter that if the ballot was rejected, then he or she would have to cast their ballot again (there’s a whole ballot spoiling process, which includes special forms and handling).
The only drama at our precinct was when an Election Judge at the scanner got cursed out by a voter because his ballot was rejected, and he had to redo it.
This is a program that is entirely citizen-run, citizen-led, and I never understood or fully appreciated that before. One gentleman who accompanied a poll watcher was from the United Kingdom. He asked the chief judges how our political parties appointed the election judges at precincts — and the chief judge said, ‘We don’t. Our election judges are volunteers.’ After the UK visitor left, the chief judge turned to me and said, “it makes your really appreciate what we have here in the U.S.”
I read that about 47 percent of registered voters didn’t vote at all this year. That’s about 90 million voters. I understand that this was a contentious election; to be honest, neither major candidate was my first choice, but I would never just throw away a chance to speak up. Voting is precious. You think Minnie Kehoe would have thrown away a chance to vote? You think Modeste Hargis or Minnie Neal would have thrown it away, too? Hell no.
About three hours after the polls opened, my oldest daughter walked down to the polling station by herself, to look around. She’s 14, and pushing back against me and her dad (as teenagers will), and definitely keeping her distance from us, as she is of the age where it is ‘not cool’ to be seen with your parents. So, when I looked up from the poll books to see her standing in the doorway, a little hesitant, it warmed my heart.
I motioned her over to me, and introduced her to the other election judges. We weren’t busy, so I walked her through the voting process, step-by-step. She watched me check a few voters in, and help one or two voters with the scanning device. One of the chief judges gave her an “I Voted” sticker, with a wink and an admonition to be sure to register as soon as she was old enough, because it was important.
Before she left, she thanked me for showing her around because it was interesting — and, under her breath, she told me she was proud of me for working the polls.
Then she ran home.
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