Saturday, Oct. 23, 2004 - 2:47 p.m.
Q: What happened to Eva?
Q: Are you the Employee of the Month for the month of October?
Q: What rocks?
Q: How many packages are on the dining room table?
Q: What kind of person is L?
Q: Do you have anything interesting to say anymore?
I wrote to the election commission about a month ago to volunteer, and they called me right away. I’m assigned to my own precinct, which is just a ten-minute walk down the road -- perfect. The only catch is this: At the end of the phone call, I asked “Do we work shifts, or what?” No, we do not. Poll workers arrive at about 6 a.m. and usually stay an hour or so after the polls close.
Training was Thursday evening, and it was surprisingly discouraging. I wasn’t expecting a motivational speech, but this was awful. Hundreds of people sat in the fluorescent, huge high school auditorium. Many of us, at least a fifth, were new – we had to raise our hands at the beginning. Yet there was no overview of Being A Poll Manager. There was just a cranky election official running through some contextless Things to Remember.
I am no expert on electoral mechanics, but I am reasonably well-informed. I read all those long pdf files linked to from Talking Points Memo and Washington Monthly. I know about provisional ballots – I even watched on C-Span the other day as the Florida Supreme Court heard an argument about provisional ballots being allowed for voters who go to the wrong polling place. So I’d expect to make it through poll worker training pretty easily. But the presenter skimmed rapidly through so many disconnected issues, explaining them so poorly or not at all, that I was quite confused at times and annoyed throughout.
For example, after a discussion of provisional ballots, the presenter suddenly said “Now, you all know about curbside voting. Make sure you don’t put the curbside ballots in the fail safe envelopes, and don’t mix those up with the provisional ballots.” And then he moved on to the next thing. Curbside ballots? I flipped through my booklet. Curbside ballots are for voters whose disabilities prevent them from entering the polling place – they can vote in their cars. Makes sense. But I heard confused murmurs all through the auditorium.
Or take his explanation of provisional ballots: Early in the presentation he’d mentioned that everyone must have an ID to vote, and he listed the acceptable forms of ID. Later he said certain voters, those who’d registered by mail, would have a special mark by their names on the register, and that those people would need to show ID. If they had no ID, they could vote a provisional ballot.
So, does that mean anyone without ID can vote a provisional ballot? If we have to ask everyone for ID, why indicate that certain people have to show ID? He moved on too quickly for anyone to find out. I’ve been researching it ever since, and it’s still not clear to me. I’ll let you know what I find out. Bring your ID to the polls.
As the presentation got more random, there were many questions, but the auditorium doors were open to the traffic noise from outside, and the presenter didn’t repeat the questions unless the attendees yelled out “What was the question?”
The most blatant failure of communication was that nobody ever explained that someone experienced, someone designated by the county, would be in charge of each polling place. I’d been aware of this from talking to the woman who called me about my volunteer form, and only then because I’d asked her about shifts. But during the training there was no overview of who would be at the polling places.
The confusion was exacerbated by the fact that regular poll workers are called “poll managers,” while the managers of the poll managers are called “clerks.” I’d picked this up from the election commission website, but it was never explained in the session, and it was seldom clear which instructions were intended for the regular poll workers and which for the people supervising them. The presenter would say things like “Try to get in to your polling place on Monday night to set up. Find a janitor or something.” People looked worriedly around.
Finally a high school girl raised her hand and asked “Is there going to be someone there to help us if we’re new? I know we’re going to be reading this book and all, but this is really confusing.” Everyone laughed, the presenter most of all. “No, we’re going to put you there alone. We’ll put all the new people in the same precinct.” The laughing continued, curly gray heads all through the row in front of me thrown back, shoulders shaking. I didn’t think it was very funny.
The presenter was dismissive of many questions, irritatedly telling a few people he didn’t know what they were talking about. One woman asked why her neighbor couldn’t use his military ID to vote, and the presenter almost yelled “BECAUSE IT’S AGAINST THE LAW.” Calm down there.
One woman asked several questions about whether we get paid, when, and how much. Answers: Yes, after the election, and one hundred dollars. If you figure in the training session and all of Election Day, that’s about $6.25 an hour.
The best two things said all night were the last things said, after many people had inched out the doors. And they were also the worst things said, given what we’d just sat through.
“One of the local candidates read through your information booklet last week, and when I saw him again he said ‘Wow, poll managers sure have a lot of power.’ And you do – you have a lot of control, a lot of decision-making responsibility, a lot of say in how you deal with issues that arise at your polling place.”
Then he said “This election is crucial. You all know about what happened in Florida four years ago. It is essential that this election be absolutely organized and valid, that nothing questionable occur. We cannot have another Florida.”
We are so fucked.