Poll Woker Experiences

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Nov 2 2010 Gubernatorial Election -- My First Time as a Poll Inspector [LONG!]
rampling wrote in poll_workers
Hey, does anyone other than me remember this community???

On Tuesday Nov. 2, I worked as a Pollworker for my 4th time, and for my first time I was an Inspector. This meant I was in charge of my Precinct: go to training, pick up supplies, set up voting, make voting work, teardown & accounting, drop off materials. I worked in the San Gabriel Valley part of Los Angeles County.

WARNING: my notes below are LONG -- I wrote up all the fussy details for my own sake, so I can remember them if/when I do this again. I just remembered this community and thought I'd post my notes here too.

There are five jobs at our polls -- and we had six people! That was nice! Two of our clerks were very experienced (far more than I am), one with a particularly fine grasp of many of the gory details. Both had considered becoming Poll Inspectors, but both also felt they weren't up to it (inadequate vehicle or not enough strength -- I was actually barely adequate on both of these!). I really appreciated having these two extra-helpful people around. Overall we were in relatively good shape, personnel-wise. :)


  • The official method of Provisional Voting is UNSAFE!!! I'd brought this up during my Inspector training, but they didn't care much. The morning of the voting, I made a big point to our Ballot Box Clerk that she must do everything possible to avoid letting any ballot be inserted into the machine that had a "pink secrecy sleeve" which marked it as provisional. The huge problem is that the voters don't always put their ballots in that pink sleeve, so it may not be marked. So we did have one misvote, where a ballot was cast (inserted into the machine) and effectively counted as a regular vote instead of provisional. *SIGH* I hate seeing this problem coming, trying to do what I could to avoid it, and it happening anyway. At least we had only one.

  • Too many people acted surprised that the roster said they'd been issued Vote-By-Mail (VBM) ballots. They'd say they didn't sign up, or that they didn't get a VBM ballot in the mail. So they had to vote provisionally (to prevent a double vote, of course), which annoyed them. I was surprised that so many of these people claimed that they didn't sign up for VBM. Odd.

  • And the usual problem of too many voters claiming they'd re-registered for our precinct bu they weren't on the roster (so they had to vote provisional). It appears that the process of updating voter registrations isn't working so well.

  • One voter showed up with a SEALED VBM envelope, and we had her open it to remove the contents, so we could take the VBM envelope and VBM ballot and void them both. Inexplicably, her envelope had just the VBM envelope, but no VBM ballot! So we had to make her vote provisionally, since there was no VBM ballot for us to void. Weird! Odd snafu from the county folk, I guess.

  • Many voters reflexively flash their ID (Driver's License) at us, not knowing we don't need them in California, and aren't allowed to look at them (unless it's the first time they're voting). People were continually surprised by this, probably because other pollworkers have just casually look at the IDs in thte past.

  • One big NEW point they repeated at my Inspector training session was "If a voter offers you a sample ballot, say 'no, thank you'." They explained that this was similar to asking for ID, which we're forbidden from doing. (A sample ballot can be used as a Voting ID for new voters.) BUT -- this is so stupid! If they've offered it, we've not asked for ID, and they're just helping us with the spelling of their name and their address. This is especially important in my precinct, with the large quantity of Chinese and Vietnamese names, belonging to voters with little or no English skills. I had to say a polite "no" to their offered sample ballot (saying "weird new rule!"), then ask these people to spell their names even though their English was poor or nonexistent. It ended up coming across as confusing and even rude to them. Frustrating and STUPID!!! I really, really, really hope they change this rule!!!

  • My precinct was co-located with another precinct, so that we had and Orange Table (with associated booths & ballot box) for my precinct, and a Green Table (with associated stuff) for the other precinct. I know they didn't follow the rules about not looking at Sample Ballots or even about not looking at IDs. Ugh. Voting seems to be about lots of detailed rules, and it feels important to me to try to follow them. It bugs me when people don't care enough to try to get it right.

  • On the other hand, it was nice that the other co-located precinct had already set up the outside signs so we didn't have to do it. Happily, we're not required to duplicate them. :)

  • We got all materials (signs and booklets) in 7 languages (English + 6 others). Except for the Sample Ballots! We got piles of Sample Ballots in English, Chinese, Vietmanese, and Spanish, but NONE in Japanese, Korean, or Tagalog. We also had multilingual clerks who spoke Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Spanish. So we'd've been stymied if we needed to help in Japanese, Korean, or Tagalog. Though, it was true that we didn't end up needing them. It just bothered me. I did consider printing out the sample ballots myself (all the PDFs are available online!) but I need to conserve my printer ink, the these ballots are looooooong. *sigh*

  • One little new thing this time was that they'd issued us a little credit-card sized fresnel magnifying lens. One grouchy voter was complaining about the small numbers, and we managed to gently convince her to use the little lens. We heard no more complaints, so we think it worked. However she walked off with our little lens! I was cool with that; I hoped it helped her be less grouchy about small print in the future. And luckily our other co-located still had their lens if we needed another. But we didn't.

  • It would help if the manuals they gave us had whys included in with all the little details of what to do. It would help make things a lot more memorable for me. What I have to do now is play the little game of "why?" when reading the details so I can have a reason that strings together many fussy details.


  • Having 6 people for 5 jobs was very nice!

  • Mellow day overall, nice clerks. Poll inspector for the other poll liked to come over tell stories a lot; people from each precinct would help the other out occasionally, as needed.

  • Low turnout (~250 votes), so we weren't overwhelmed by too many voters at once.

  • Our Provisional Clerk took charge of putting ballot materials in the official Red Box, but sealed it before my Roster Summary was included (he did take responsibility for the error). WHUPS!!! We had to rubber-band it to outside of the box. Later, when I dropped of the box at the Check-In Center, they made me park in a special place, return to unseal the box, put the Roster Summary inside, then they re-sealed the box with a special big yellow Re-Seal sticker. Didn't end up being too bad after all, even though I felt stupid.

  • No one wanted to go with me to the Check-In Center to turn in our stuff (we have a 2-man rule for turning stuff in). Luckily after a little bit, our Extra Clerk volunteered. Apparently it's his usual policy to volunteer to do this chore if no one else steps up. I was very thankful! We had a nice chat while we waited in the long, slow line to turn in our stuff.

  • I was thankful for our Voting Coordinator, Debra (sp?), who stopped by twice to check on us. After her first visit I called her to tell her that both precincts at our location had run out of Voter Registration Forms. When she returned the 2nd time, she said she'd make a special trip to get us some more! I called our local post office and arranged for them to give her a nice pile of them (40). They only gave her half as many as they'd promised (20), so we each ended up getting 10 more. Luckily, that turned out to be EXACTLY as many as we needed for the rest of the day!


  • Arrange ahead of time to have a friend go with me to the Voting Supplies Pick Up Site so they can help me unload when I get home. Owwww, negotiating the stairs outside my apt. alone is not so good!

  • Try to arrange to have a clerk show up to my place at 5:30am to help load the Voting Supplies into my car safely. Also make sure my landlord has our apartment lights on at 5:30am. It was dangerous to maneuver the heavy voting machine and ballot box down my DARK flight of stairs alone!!!

  • Remind clerks to bring manuals to Polling Place, and to use them! I can try.

  • Consider making customized checklists for set up and breakdown. Include whys & manual page references. Separate checklists are important since people are intimidated by the big manuals (even though they have friendly tabs).

  • It was a good idea (since I was the person in charge) to plan to not leave the precinct all day: remember to bring food & drink & magazines.

  • Arrange earlier in the day for someone to accompany me to the Check-In Center.

  • OMG, bring DUCT TAPE!!!

SUMMARY: I think I would work as a Poll Inspector again, if I have the time available. It should be easier the 2nd time, using my "NOTES FOR NEXT TIME" above to make it better.

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Great notes. Nothing there surprised me.

San Mateo Co. has the same problem with provisional ballots. There actually have a great solution but refuse to implement it.

I'm surprised your county will not let you look at IDs or Sample Ballots. You're not asking to see ID, you're not turning away voters who refuse. I think it is a great way to look up voters in the roster.

Don't use duck tape. It leave residue. Buy some blue painters tape.

So, is there a way we can publicize this comm so we can get more members? I was thinking of posting here myself, but then realized almost no one would see it.

I'm not sure how to advertise the community. I'd love to have more people here.

*pokes around*

Okay, I went ahead and plugged the comm in community_promo, and it looks like you (but not I) could get it added to the Community Directory.

Request has been sent for hte community directory.

I had a provisional vote miscast too, because I forgot to tell my Ballot Officer _not_ to give secrecy sleeves to voters who got provisional envelopes. (That's how we do it in Alameda County; they get an envelope _or_ a sleeve, so if we see them with neither, we know to look harder for one or the other.)

We also had a lot of voters who said they signed up for VBM ballots but never got them. And that's been happening for several elections now; I don't know what the registrar's office is doing wrong, unless it's just that a bunch of voters are lying for some reason.

Do they really tell you not to look at their IDs? They tell us we're not allowed to _ask_ to see them, but I don't think they've ever told us not to look at them, and it certainly is helpful to be able to just read off their name and address.

I can sympathize about wanting to hew to the rules, but in my experience you go absolutely nuts if you obsess (as I'm prone to) about following all of them. It's much easier to focus on figuring out which rules are important and which ones you can be flexible about, and adjusting accordingly. (And yeah, it would help if they told us the "whys" more often, but after a while you can figure out most of them.)

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