One election official’s view

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    I live in a rural Virginia County and I’m an election official.

    “Election official” means I am one of the people working at the polling place . . . when you come in, I’m the person who checks your ID, or points you to the voting booth, or shows you where to deposit your ballot, or takes a ballot out to the car so your invalid mother can vote.

    We all are volunteers. Our training consists of a two-hour session conducted by our county registrar about a week before the election. The county pays us $100 plus mileage.

    We must be at the polling place at 5:00 AM and we cannot leave until after the votes are tabulated; machines opened and closed and tapes run according to very specific step-by-step instructions that do not allow any errors; ballots sealed in boxes; voting machines opened, memory cards removed, cards placed in sealed envelopes; all envelopes sealed and signed; voting machines re-sealed; seal numbers recorded; a complicated Statement of Results filled out by hand and signed; and on and on and on.

    In my case, I’m at a small polling place with about 1,800 registered voters in our district. In the 5 November election, 985 votes were cast at our precinct; we closed the polls at 7:00 PM but we did not leave until 9:30 PM . . . that sounds like a 16-1/2 hour day, from 5:00 AM until 9:30 PM, but it’s much more than that.

    In order to be at the polls at 5:00 AM, I got up at 3:30, cooked and ate breakfast, showered, dressed, and drove 10 miles. I carried with me a cooler containing my lunch. After the polls closed and we completed all the poll-closing work, I helped the chief at our polling place load all the paperwork, voting machines, signs, etc., etc., into his SUV. We drove to the courthouse, hauled all the stuff from his car into the registrar’s office, went through a checklist, and turned in everything. I got home at 10:30 PM, was in bed at 11:00 PM – – – my day, then, was 3:30 AM – 11:00 PM . . . you do the math.

    Five people worked at my polling place — I’m 69, the chief is 75, and the youngest is 65 – – – by the time the polls close at 7:00 PM, all us old folks are dragging ass and we still have 2 hours or more to go. I suspect the same is the case at the Richmond polls.

    I fully understand how tired poll workers at the Richmond poll could overlook one machine. While we dealt only with 985 voters, I suspect they had 3 -4 times that many, or more; after all, they’re in Richmond (population over 200,000), we are in a rural county, total population under 12,000

    And . . . the official results are tabulated at the courthouse by our three-person county election board, all three of whom are age 65 – 70. Their day started the same as mine, around 3:30 AM . . . and they don’t get out of the courthouse until after midnight.

    And now, a week after the election, they have to re-tabulate the results with teevee cameras and lawyers breathing down their necks.

    Hell of a way to run an election.  

    • scott_r

      I have only worked as a poll observer, but what you mention rings true.  Sadly, not a lot of younger folks can take the time to do what you are doing; it kind of favors the retired.  The sadder part is the poor staffing levels – it seems like the best thing for democracy would be expanded polling hours, and yet, the already too-long day you describe needs to be split into shifts.  

      I agree with you that a lot of the people saying rather ugly things in comments sections of the newspapers haven’t got a clue about how the system really works.

    • BatCave

      Thank you to you and all the other election officials across the state who put in extremely long day for very little pay.  And thank you for posting your diary as well.  Voters really need to understand and appreciate what you go through.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      I’m retired and also work as an election official. The registrar in my county is the only reason I still serve in that capacity. I have worked those 16-17 hr. days you speak of. They are metaphorical “killers.” In this county, however, we can now work split shifts, the only reason I still do it. At my precinct, we had three people working the electronic poll books (EPB), two of them splitting the shift into half-days serving. I shared a shift overseeing a voting machine (EVM) with another retired person. Here are some ways our registrar and our Electoral Board have improved participation and accuracy:  

      1. People can serve split shifts.

      2. Local employers are encouraged to give employees time off with pay if they serve as election officials. (That got us one man who was in his 40’s to serve at my precinct.)

      3. All persons who act as election officials have to be certified by the registrar or her designees as being proficient in whatever job they have: chief, assistant chief, EPB worker, EVM worker. (There have been some people rejected as not sufficiently qualified.) Returning election officials also get refresher training for their jobs the week before the election.

      4. Every effort is made to have both Democrats and Republicans serving as election officials at each precinct, even though my county is deeply red.

      Every one of us who acts as election officials deserve a pat on the back for that public service. I hereby give a pat to you…and to myself.  🙂

    • glennbear

      Thank You all for volunteering. I toyed with the idea of volunteering but unfortunately I did not. With 2014 likely to be a complicated election because of the new ID laws I fully intend to volunteer since I am retired and have the time.