Working the Polls or Hardly Poll Working?

With the 2020 election more than a week behind us, and President-elect Biden beginning his transitionary actions, it seems like many Americans are ready to move on from the anxiety-ridden narratives of the election process. However, with Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia not having a definitive projection, and many states still counting their remaining votes, rhetoric involving voter fraud and illegal ballots is rampant on Twitter from the White House.

As a first-time voter, I was excited to cast my ballot in Douglas County. But after watching the first presidential debate on September 29th, I felt like I needed to contribute more to my community and volunteered as a poll worker. The online volunteer application took about five minutes, and three days later, I received an email explaining I was selected as a 2020 poll worker in polling place 04-08.

Needless to say, I was both thrilled and nervous. The online training (which replaced the typical in-person session to account for COVID-19 guidelines) was quick and painless. Still, there were numerous minor details I needed to remember for election day. For example, one video covered everything from verifying a voter by address, recognizing someone needed to vote provisionally, and how to assist a voter with filling out the necessary information on a provisional ballot.

Come November 3rd, I had two goals in mind: maintain a positive, helpful attitude during the 14-hour shift (7 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and stay as far away from provisional ballots as I could. Luckily, I succeeded in both these aspects. My role was to verify voters using book one. Book one had every registered voter for the 04-08 polling place (an elementary school about four minutes from my house).  When the voter entered through the school’s doors, a greeter instructed them to proceed to my table. In Douglas County, poll workers do not need to see a driver’s license or identification unless there is an extenuating circumstance (such as a newly 18-year-old registering online). Therefore, the voter tells me their first and last name, and I ask for their address. Once they tell me the accurate address, I double-check that they did not request an early ballot (which then requires a provisional ballot to cancel the early ballot). If they did not request an early ballot, I then turn to the person operating book two.

The clerks for book one and book two work together all day. Since poll workers operate under a bipartisan approach, one of us had to be a registered democrat and the other a registered republican. The book two clerk will ask me for the voter’s name, the voter sequence number (listed in book one), and which ballot type they receive (for local elections that vary per address). The clerk for book two then turns to the judge who collects the correct ballot, places it in a privacy sleeve, and hands it to the voter. Once the voter has finished filling out his ballot, he puts it back into the privacy sleeve and gives it to the second judge, who slides it into the lockbox without ever looking at the ballot’s contents.

When  I started hearing claims of poll workers throwing away republican ballots across the country, I was immediately confused. If a voter tried to show me their registration card or license, I had to ask them to put it away and not look at the contents. I never once saw a filled-out ballot during the entire day, and the inspector (who has much more training, experience, and qualifications than an average poll worker) takes the locked box to the election office at the end of the night. Unless someone walked in wearing a MAGA hat or political mask,  which happened on three occasions, and we asked them to remove the paraphernalia to abide by passive electioneering laws, I would never have known how somebody voted.

Although I served in Omaha, Nebraska, instead of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I quickly researched the poll working process in many of this year’s key battleground states. Many of the same processes and bipartisan approaches are utilized across the country. With that said, because of my first-hand “behind the scenes” experience, I am wholly confident in our democratic process.