Poll Woker Experiences

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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My frustrating experiences as a pollworker on Nov. 4th (LONG)
Liberty & Justice for ALMOST All....
rampling wrote in poll_workers
Yesterday was my second experience ever as a pollworker. What a dysfunctional mess!!!

[Long post, but I added subheadings for your reading comfort!]

1. Half-Hearted Morning Prep

A. No One’s In Charge

I showed up at 6am to my designated Polling Place at a high school. I was immediately disappointed during our setup to find that no one seemed to be in charge, and that no one seemed to know what specifically needed doing and what order those things needed to be done in.

As we prepped, people were setting up tables and the poll booths while the ballot-checking machine was ignored. It takes a while to set that up, and mustn't be left for last. I went over to help see to it that it got started on its setup, and found flailing confused people. I asked where was the written procedure to follow, and they dismissed my question. So I contributed what I knew of the procedure, and slowly the thing was setup, the audio booth attached as required, and started up. Serious confusion reigned.

B. We Open Late

I noticed that outside our room, people were already lining up to vote! I was amazed! Still, our setup proceeded at a snail's pace, with no one watching the clock or caring about the line waiters, but talking to each other and fussing about who knows what. Our specific jobs had not even been assigned yet! I started pushing to assign jobs, but got extremely little cooperation. Finally it seemed we were sitting in approximate places near each job's materials, with me grabbing the job of Ballot Box Clerk.

We had seven people, and these people gravitated to five of the six jobs. No one acted as Line Monitor (which was newly added for this election, in anticipation of extra strong turnout), and we had two for Roster Index Clerk and two for Provisional Voting. I was happy to see that the Addled Woman (who seemed to me to be one of the two most lost people there) was acting as the helper to the Provisional Voting Clerk. However a guy who was the other lost person ended up as the Roster Clerk, which concerned me, since this job takes at least a little savvy, and is the first person the voters interact with.

The time was a few minutes after 7am. People were still sitting, chatting, when I said loudly "Isn't it time to declare the polls open?", and got rumblings of "well, I guess, yeah, mumble-mumble". So I looked 'round the room, and saw no one in charge taking the step to start the voting. So I loudly declared "The Polls Are Now Open!", and people started coming in to vote. What the hell? Why did it feel like no one was in charge, or knew how to get stuff done? I hated that we started late, that the people in front of the line were watching our pathetic incompetence. :(

2. The Disorganized Voting Day

A. Ballot Box Clerking Is Fun

I liked being Ballot Box Clerk. It meant I got to interact in the most fun part with the voters. I got to tell them they'd completed the voting process, and give them (and often their kids) the li'l "I Voted" stickers.

I also, since I was closest to the voting booths, declared myself a primary Problem Fixer, and would help out with anyone who had troubles or confusions about voting. I would even jump in if I saw someone else taking too long to help someone with a problem. I helped a lot of people with a variety of difficulties with the InkaVote system. I explained why the bubbles on the ballots looked odd (they don't line up horizontally like some seem to expect) and that it was OK. I helped multiple people who had language issues get the help they needed. I figured out the Audio booth to help a person who thought they wanted it, only to have them change their mind after they tried to use it. I liked helping the people, and I liked interacting with the people who'd just finished voting. That was the good part of the day.

B. Confused Pollworkers

But. As the day wore on, it was clear that most of our people were somewhat over their heads in their jobs. They could handle the simple parts of their jobs (for the most part) but very often couldn't handle it if anything unusual came up.

C. I Snitch on the Street Index Clerks

And two of them weren't even doing their jobs! Last election I worked as a Street Index Clerk, alone (instead of the two we had for this election). After a couple of hours I realized I hadn't noticed either of them dragging a list out to post outside. OK, it happens only once an hour; maybe I'd missed it. So I took advantage of a voting lull to wander outside the front of our Polling Place. I saw no list posted. I came back inside and asked the Street Index Clerks what was up, why I didn't see a list posted outside. They said "Oh, we're so busy, with such a big turnout, we don't have time.". Well, THE ENTIRE PURPOSE of the street index clerk is to maintain and update the two copies of the master street index SO THAT THEY WILL BE POSTED OUTSIDE hourly for any Get-Out-The-Vote activists to inspect. Uggggh! I told them they needed to do it, they disagreed. I gave up (without really pushing) and went back to my seat.

There had been a County Poll Coordinator (or some sort of title) who stopped by earlier (before I'd wandered outside) to check on our precinct, and I'd chatted a little with her then. So when she reappeared in the early afternoon, I said softly to her "How important is it that the Street Index be posted outside?", and she said "Very important". So then I told her about our street index people not doing that, and she went over to talk to them. I couldn't hear any of it, and I didn't get to check on any of what happened afterward. But I did see them appear to be working harder on it.

A bit after 6pm I went over to them and said "You know, you don't have to update the Street Index Copies after 6pm, so you can stop now.". They said something stupid like "Yeah, we know, but we still are maintaining the copies.". "Whatever", I thought, let them waste their work; I went back to my job.

D. Mistakes with Provisional Ballots

I also had troubles with the provisional voting person not giving the provisional voters the little Pink Privacy Sleeves to take WITH their ballots. The Pink Privacy Sleeve is supposed to be used to cover the ballot after inking the vote, when the voter returns it to the Provisional Clerk; the Clerk then puts the ballot with its Pink Privacy Sleeve into the filled out big Pink Provisional Envelope. If a voter came to me with a ballot inside a Pink Privacy Sleeve it would be easy for me to tell that they'd come to the wrong person, and I'd never put that ballot directly into the Ballot Box.

The Provisional Clerk did usually tell voters to return directly to her after they'd marked their ballots, but they could easily forget. So twice voters came to me and gave me their ballot and I had them put it in the machine (which eats it), and THEN the Provisional Clerk would say "Oops, they should've come here first!". And it was too late -- some provisional voter had their vote irretrievably dropped in the sealed ballot box, and there was nothing we could do!

So in the early afternoon I asked the Provisional Clerk to give them the smaller Pink Privacy Sleeve to take with them before they marked their ballot. She said OK. But she was confused, and instead gave them the big Pink Provisional Envelope to take with them to the voting booths. This confused some of the people, and they'd often keep the Pink Provisional Envelope rather separate from the ballot (instead of putting the ballot IN the pink Privacy Sleeves, as they should've been able to do). That meant that there was still a failure mode when a voter could come to me with the ballot in one hand and the Pink Provisional Envelope in another hand (perhaps mixed in with other voting pamphlets), and I'd have no idea they were a provisional voter.

Thus even after my instructions to the Provisional clerk I still had one more mistaken provisional voter come directly to me. I didn't see the Pink Provisional Envelope, so I helped them enter their ballot into the Ballot Box. Right after the machine ate it they held up the big Pink Provisional Envelope and said "Now what do I do with this?"! Arrrrrgh!!! At least that was the last mistake of that type for the day.

F. Long Line To Start, Mellowness Later

In the early morning, from before we opened 'til just before 9am, we always had a relatively long line (out the door) of maybe up to 30 people. I was impressed (but also concerned that the line was longer than necessary because of the impressive incompetence of our pollworkers). It frustrated me that it was at least 30 minutes before we had our 7 regular poll booth + 1 lowered "accessible" pool booth fully occupied with voters. But we did finally get there, and I was comforted a bit to see that.

After the early morning rush the ENTIRE rest of the day was mellow, however. We had NO lunch rush, and only a minor increase in voters after 5pm, which trickled to nearly zero after 7pm.

G. Long Day, Broken Up By Bits of Niceness

It was a VERY long day for me, as I expected (though it lasted extra long -- see below). The place we were had really awful hard plastic seats. The kind of seats DESIGNED to give you back troubles. Around halfway through the day I already had a bruised butt and quite serious lower back pain. Arrrgh!!

One of the very bright points of the day was a friend of mine. He'd previously offered to drive out to my Polling Place to pick me up for lunch (whenever I could get away) and we'd dine. But I texted him that our place was so incompetent that I didn't feel comforable leaving. He texted back that he'd bring me lunch, what would I like to order!!! So very nice!!! So I had a nice and very needed semi-break later when he brought me a lovely Carl's Jr. burger, and he stayed to eat with me in the back of the room. It was cool, from that position I could relax and chat with him, while still making sure that if any problem arose I could leap back and see that it was solved properly (to my sense of proper, at least). That was great! And no problem did arise during our nice break, and I felt somewhat rejuvenated after that.

We shared the room our Polling Place was in with the school employees who worked there. While my friend was lunching with me, one of the school employees remarked to me that our group of pollworkers was much nicer than the last group that had worked there. She said the previous group was much nastier, with much arguing. And then she said that she thought I was doing a particularly good job in helping our group to be well-behaved and functional. I was pleased to hear that she thought I was doing a good job, but I was also shocked, since my thoughts about our group did not include ideas like well-behaved or functional. If she meant that we didn’t loudly argue, that was true, and I did have a tendency to insert myself into any difficulties with a voter that lasted longer than a minute -- so maybe those could’ve escalated to shouting without my assistance. I’ll never know.

H. Pollworking Firsts For Me

This day had some firsts for me: dealing with people who didn't speak english (helped Japanese, Chinese, and Korean people -- one of each). Using the audio booth. Having a person in wheelchair. But the incompetent people who set up the table were missing some of the essential multilingual bits, so that made things extra hard (I remember when we were breaking everything down afterward, one of our guys pulled out the seven-page multilingual help book that I NEEDED, and said "where do we pack this?" -- damn!)

3. After We Closed the Poll

A. Who Was Supposed To Be In Control?

So at 8pm, we closed the poll, and started breaking down the stuff. And that's when the incompetence of our group shone the most strongly! Still, no one was in charge! Finally having access to our official roster list, I finally found out that the actual official person in charge was... the Addled Woman that I previously mentioned!

Although the Addled Woman spoke English, she seemed to have troubles with it (her primary language was Spanish). Furthermore, she just, ummmmm, wasn't so bright. During the day she would pick up a random piece of our materials and ask some mind-bogglingly stupid question about it. It was very frustrating to have to explain to her that whatever it was was something supposed to be used later, or had already been dealt with, or whatever. Uggggh! I had no idea she was the one who was supposed to be in charge until I saw her name on the list!!

The woman who I'd already assumed was in charge (though not taking much charge at all) was Serious Woman, who turned out to be our County Pollworker. I don't know why she had a special title, or if it even meant anything beyond her being a regular pollworker, but she'd taken some minor partial control all day, and stepped up a bit more after the polls closed.

B. Ballot Box Processing Anarchy

People started out breaking down the equipment, and that went OK. Then someone opened the Ballot Box and they started putting the varying types of ballots on the table and sorting them. Addled Woman was part of this group (this was before I knew she was supposed to be in charge). I saw that they were randomly doing this, and not following any procedure, and I asked where was the list of how to do these things. I was effectively told to shut up and just paw through them like they were doing. So I left and went to a different group of people fussing over the various rosters.

C. Counting Signtaures Is OK

Serious Woman had the main Roster of Voters, and she was fussing with it, counting signatures. OK. Another Busy Woman was fussing over the Street Index Rosters (the master and two copies). I asked her why she was doing that, since the copies didn't matter. She rejected my advice, and told me that she was going to resolve the lists. I withdrew (extra work wouldn't mess anything up), and then Serious Woman asked for my help with counting signatures, to verify her number. OK, I knew that was important and proper, so I dug in.

After a bit of counting, somehow I started talking more with Busy Woman who seemed to open up more to me. I told her I was a Street Index Clerk at my last polling place, and was very happy to stop updating and posting the copies at 6pm. I said that the street index copies didn't need to be updated after that, nor at the end of the day, since they had the master. She finally seemed to understand. She also seemed to respect my experience more than she had before. She said when she'd done the Street Index Clerk job previous times, she'd maintained the copies all day, and didn't know they could stop. She then stopped updating. I was happy to see that.

When I'd finished with my signature counting, I made a grid of numbers to add from each page, and she offered to add the whole mess. It was nice to have an ally who was helping us get functional work done. She added the numbers, and we got a different number, 2 more than Serous Woman's total. Then Busy Woman rechecked *all* my signature page totals, and recalculated her sums of the totals, and she found one mistake in her summing that got us down to 1 more than Serious Woman. Serious Woman didn't have any intermediate results, but we did, and we decided our two checked/rechecked numbers thus beat her one biiiiig count. Serious Woman agreed. Cool.

D. County Poll Coordinator Abstains & Leaves

The County Poll Coordinator (who I'd previously mentioned, and who had stopped by twice earlier) had returned to our Polling Place a while before the polls closed. She chatted a little bit, mostly watching us. After the polls closed, she kept watching. After a bit, she said "I'm just here to watch, not to help.". I heard her say (with resentment in her voice) that when she was a pollworker, no Coordinator had helped them break down, so she wouldn't either. And then she left long before we got close to finishing.

Several of our pollworkers were mad at her and loudly expressed their resentment of her. I speculate that perhaps some of them were also still angry about being told (apparently indelicately) that posting street indices outside was mandatory).

In any event, we received no outside help with our closing procedures. For me, this was a huge contrast to my last time as a pollworker, when we had an excellent County Poll Coordinator (or whatever he was called) who came back and took over as the polls closed. He was instrumental in guiding us through the closing procedure (which our head pollworker couldn't have handled At All), and made the whole thing finish up smoothly. I miss him!!

E. More Ballot Box Anarchy

The three of us, who had finished the roster signature counting, then turned to the rest of the anarchy. Addled Woman had let people play with the ballots, separating and counting the ballots as they saw fit. Wrongly!! Each ballot has two parts, the regular spots for standard votes, and a tear-off write-in section. You're supposed to separate all BLANK write-ins and leave any WRITTEN-ON write-in section attached to its regular part. That's the only way they can tell there's no overvote for the position that was written in.
So I was so sad to see that single forlorn ripped-off write-in vote all by itself. Arrrrrgh!!

They were already well into the accusation stage as the three of us walked over. They were asking how was this or that to be done. I said there was a written procedure that explained everything in detail that needed to be done, and we should find that. They looked at me like I was an annoying idiot. Then Serious Woman stepped in took over. I decided to step back and stay out of their stupid fray, since they clearly didn't want my help.

So I hung back and chatted with some others who were also hanging back, having already passed their limit of how long a day they could stand. Slowly the loudness of the others continued to rise, and we could tell they were just flailing. After a quite a while, Serious Woman came over to me and said "I need your help.". OK, I went over to dig into the mess. That's when I had to face that forlorn stripped write-in vote, and make sense of the disarray.

F. I Dig In For The Finish

OK, people were finally deciding they would listen to me. I insisted we find the procedure. Serious Woman found it after a short bit of looking (it was in a relatively obvious place). She and I then started following it. Even as we were doing that, Addled Woman would try to mess things up! It was unbelievable! At one point, Serious Woman and I were interpreting stuff from the procedure book, and behind us, Addled Woman started piling voted ballots and stuff in the (most important) Red Box, wrongly of course. Arrrrgh! Luckily she hadn't gotten too far with it, and I was able to undo it. We filled in the counts of stuff in the box, with numbers that DIDN'T add up, put the stuff in the box, and sealed it.

Then we finished off the White Box (for voided stuff and the like), and the Green Stripe Envelope (a.k.a. GSE), and along the way I found a page that said something like "DO NOT DO ANY WORK AFTER 9:30pm. STOP." -- which I held up and announced to the room in my pointless frustration -- at nearly 11pm!

Near the bitter end we had an Offical County Dude (I don't know his official title) show up, who was watching our anarchy. And as it got near 11pm, he said "Just box it all up and take it in.". Our stupid group wouldn't listen. I tried to help. Finally with repetition, it got through, and we started packing up. I actually finally left before the final bits were loaded up. But the Official County Dude was there, and all the stuff was by the Addled Woman's car, so I think he was able to get it finished off.

4. Final Thoughts

In the end, I found the experience to be horribly frustrating, stupidly ridiculous, embarrassing, and just plain unpleasant in the extreme! Without any authority myself, with people not wanting to respect my input, and without anyone who had any authority exerting that authority, the anarchy and stupidity drove me nuts! I even had to go behind the backs of my co-workers to tell on them to get them to follow some rules (for the Street Index Roster Copies).

IF I ever do this again, I am going to make sure the first thing I do is find out who's in charge, and then be Their Personal Auditor ALL DAY! I will not be polite (though I'd start out polite), I will not take uncooperation from anyone, I will push, and push, and call the county officials on them if I have to. On the other hand, I may not ever do this again, even if I have the time. I do not want to do a job where I have to feel like a hated bully and/or snitch all day. It's extremely disheartening dealing with such anarchy and incompetence and hostility.

I've wondered about what it'd take to be declared a Poll Inspector myself (head of the pollworkers). Addled Woman proves that it must not take much! But I wouldn't want to sign up for it unless/until I was sure I'd have the time to work the polls next time. And, given the troubled levels of competence and respect that I've seen, I'm not sure I'd want the responsibility to coordinate such people.

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Hmm, given that I don't know the exact procedures in LA county I don't think I entirely followed several of the problems you had. I'm pretty sure that here in San Mateo county you're supposed to update the street index until 7 (at 8 it becomes a moot point anyway!) - we certainly did. In Santa Clara county it definitely did stop at 6 - the idea was there would be a dinner rush and the extra pollworkers would be needed to help out elsewhere. However, same as your location we had NO dinner rush yesterday! Only the morning rush. I speculate that it was a combination of a) people having heard lines would be horrific and making sure to show up early, and b) the presidential race was essentially over when Ohio got called so some number of people decided not to bother voting (which is silly - CA was going for Obama no matter what and the down-ticket races still mattered! so hopefully it was more 'a' than 'b'.)

I've never had an official county dude help with breakdown because at least in our area each of them is flitting between a half a dozen precincts. Maybe it is organized differently down there.

auros and I got tired of incompetent leadership and he became a precinct inspector as of last primary (and ours weren't nearly as incompetent as yours - at least we knew who was in charge!). I'll probably be one next time, hopefully with the two of us running precincts that are at the same location since part of the fun of taking the day off to work is getting to spend it with my fiance :) Anyway, I think the requirement to be an inspector is just to have worked some number of elections. Some friends of mine got asked to be inspectors at their second election because they demonstrated actual competence. Competent people are in short supply it seems. At least ones willing to take the day off and work a 16h day.

The law say you can stop swapping out the Street Index at 6pm. It doesn't hurt to continue.

Elections Code Section 14294:
At all elections, a member of the precinct board shall mark,
on one of the copies of the index posted at or near the polling
place, the name of each person who has voted, by drawing a line
through the name of the voter, with a pen or indelible pencil. The
board member shall mark off the names at least once each hour, to and
including 6 p.m. In all counties not using the index roster, the
board member shall draw a line under the last name signed in the
roster at 6 p.m. or at the time of discontinuation of this
procedure, whichever occurs last.

In Alameda County I don't think there's any minimum requirement to be an inspector, other than having access to a car. I was an inspector my very first election, unless you count the one I worked as a student in San Bernardino County (which I'm pretty sure they didn't).

First, thank you for being a poll worker. We can not run elections without you.

Second, take you post, replace nick names with real names, and send it to you county register of voters. Election day is so busy that they do not know what is going on in the precincts. If nobody tells them, nothing will ever change.

Third, this is sadly typical. It one reason I have got more involved. It's why I created this community. I have firmly come to the opinion that election day should be a national holiday. Not because I think it will 'bring out the vote' but because I think it will allow us to recruit better poll workers.

When you write to your county, say that next time around you want to be an inspector. A precinct is only as good as its leader. Obviously your leader wasn't.

If you do become an inspector, be prepared. I spend a good amount of time preparing for the day. I make my own lists for setup and break down. I spend time breaking out what I want different people doing. I printed up a whole list to take with me. So I can quickly easily hand people jobs without having to think about it. I pack food for the day so I don't have to leave (as you noticed how that can be important).

I do encourage you to work the polls again. It can be a really rewarding experience. My first time was certainly frustrating. The question I keep asking myself is, what would happen if I wasn't there? Would people be denied their right to vote? Would the ballots, roster, street index be mishandled? For me our republic is too important to risk these questions to other people.

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