By Noah Stern & Spencer Armon:
This election day, we put our lives and livelihoods on the line and defended the institutions of democracy by answering the call to become a poll worker. That’s right, we each spent 15 hours sitting in a random township building with an all-star team of retirees to make sure you were able to vote and we were able to collect two hundred and thirty dollars. No need to thank us, your tax dollars are in the mail.
*Anecdotes 1-3 by Noah Stern, 4-5 by Spencer Armon
Anecdote 1: Don't Vote Twice
In the training videos sent to us by the Montgomery County Board of Elections, a kind man named Jonathan walked us through the process of interacting with voters and showing them how to use the ballot scanner. The woman sitting on my right at the sign-in table was named Jean. Jean’s claim to fame was that she had apparently watched all six of the videos four times each. This adds up to around 4 hours of total watch time, so, suffice it to say, Jean had some time on her hands. In one video, Jonathan provides an example of something that would cause a ballot to be rejected by the machine: a scenario in which someone votes for two candidates for attorney general. Unfortunately, it seemed as though Jean was unable to extrapolate this hyper-specific scenario to encompass a wider range of voter errors. As such, every time Jean handed a voter their ballot, she told them “make sure you don’t, for instance, vote twice for attorney general, or the machine won’t accept the ballot!” Oh, what a novel and wacky concept, Jean! Jean and I encountered roughly 350 voters that day, and she said this to about all of them.
Anecdote 2: Sweater Men
These anecdotes have almost nothing to do with each other, but I decided to lump them together because they both involved utterly exasperated men in sweaters. The first man arrived during a lull in attendance, so we were able to pay him a lot of attention. He produced a mail-in ballot and its corresponding secrecy envelope, both dirty and crumpled. Normally, it is a very simple process for a voter to surrender a mail-in ballot and vote in person, so long as they bring the outer envelope with them. Otherwise, the voter must file a provisional ballot, which takes about five times longer than voting normally, and is so much more work for everyone. When we explained this to the man, he was gobsmacked. He revealed to us that he had actually just fished his mail-in ballot out of the trash, and was entirely confident that he would be able to surrender it at the poll. After making a quick phone call home to see if anyone could find his outer envelope in the trash, he came back in with a defeated sigh, sassily proclaiming, “well, I didn’t know there were so many envelopes!”
The second sweater man came in later, when the cafeteria was full of people. Keep this fact in mind. He approached the counter and said quietly, “Hi, I used to live in the city but I just moved back in with my parents. Is it possible for you to check if I’m registered at this precinct?” At this point, Jean and I reached a crossroads. First, I will present to you what Jean should have done. She should have said, “no problem, sir,” and calmly scanned the voter registry to see if this man was registered at our precinct. Now let’s walk through what she actually did. Jean, in her infinite subtlety, proceeded to yell across the room at our judge of elections, Matt. “Hey Matt?! This guy just moved back in with his parents, and he wants to know if he’s registered here!” You may recall that the cafeteria was full of people, and might I add that it was almost dead silent. As several heads turned in our direction, you could see the exact moment the man lost his will to live. Thank you once again, Jean.
Anecdote 3: The Mask Conspiracy
We’ve heard a lot about Jean, but she wasn’t the only old woman sitting next to me at the sign-in table. To my left was a woman named Rita. As poll workers, we were not allowed to express our political opinions at any point during the day. However, I ended up knowing both Jean and Rita’s leanings very early on. Jean was clearly a liberal, who would sneak off to talk to Matt about the concerning number of Trump ballots she saw. As for Rita, I think this anecdote will give a pretty good glimpse into where she falls on the political spectrum:
At around 3 pm, almost entirely out of nowhere, Rita turned to me and said “you know, statistics show the masks don’t actually do anything. It’s all just political theater.” Needless to say, this elicited quite a response from Jean and Matt.
Jean’s immediate rebuttal was delivered with the cadence of a kindergarten teacher, “Ohhh, that’s so not true.”
But Rita had come to play. She hit Jean with irrefutable facts. “Both Georgia and Sweden don’t have a mask mandate and their curves are flat now.” Ah yes, Georgia. That bastion of scientific advancement and public safety. Apparently, Rita’s rock-solid figures were somehow not enough to satisfy Matt, who felt so strongly about the matter that he stopped helping a voter fill out her provisional ballot. He walked over to the table, his tablet chock full of highfalutin graphs and numbers from left-wing fake news organizations like the CDC. Matt accosted her about where she had gotten her information from, and Rita, cool as a cucumber and totally not deflecting, responded with “I don’t know, you’d have to ask my husband. He showed me some articles.” Another liberal owned.
Anecdote 4: The Constable Conundrum
At a polling location, a Constable is supposed to be the “peace officer.” The Constable at my precinct, apparently forgetting his job description, almost got in a fight after a voter requested that he wear a mask. The Constable angrily responded, “If I wear a mask and you shid or fard on me, I’m still gonna get dis virus so it don’t matter anyway!” He then proceeded to talk shit about this woman to me as she scanned her ballot 3 feet away.
Later, the same Constable ranted about the “crazy libs who want to burn the country down,” and claimed that the election would be fraudulent if Joe Biden wins. He increased his volume as he discussed how “them scanners don’t count shit,” at which point the 6 voters in line glanced over with fearful eyes. He then went outside to smoke his 8th cigarette of the day.
Anecdote 5: The Savior
The judge in charge of my precinct, although an incredibly sweet woman, didn’t know what she was doing. Given that I was the “expert” since I actually watched the training videos, I offered to assist her in readying the machines. I was able to prepare the Ballot Marking Device (or the BMD, as the tech-wizards say) in under 5 minutes given that I simply had to plug it in, open the cabinet, and hit the power button. This feat lead to comments such as “Oh my gosh, you’re our savior!!” and “I don’t know what we’d do without you!” For the next 13 hours, whenever I did anything, I was met with praise. After I told someone they can’t vote for two Presidents or when I ate my lunch somewhat quickly, I was reminded that I was “the savior” of the precinct. Not to brag or anything, but I will likely go down in Election Day lore as “the guy who did his job.”