A day spent with democracy

what my last day as a poll inspector was like

Another issue–I had to spend 16 hours masked, even though half the people coming to vote didn’t mask OR socially distance.

I worked the NYC election yesterday–Citizens were picking a mayor (between Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa here in NYC) and dealing with some ballot referenda. Also a chance to pick new Democrats for court (the GOP in Brooklyn doesn’t field candidates because the borough is 80% Dem–they can’t even find Repubs to work the tables at a polling place). I thought I should mention it here, since it’s the last time I expect to do the work.

My decision is based on the reality that this is the third recent election I’ve worked where understaffing was endemic. General rule* is that the tables need at least three people to handle the process. Last time I worked, there weren’t enough people for the tables and I worked alone and it was a disaster. The old days had lots of volunteers and I saw myself as a virtual youngster compared to the rest of the poll workers. Not true anymore–the new election requires understanding of Technology that includes scannable ballots and online tablets to do lookups to find voters. the Boomer generation is not so comfortable with such change, and while the pay has been increased, it wasn’t enough to attract the minimum number of workers.

When you don’t have enough workers, that means people can’t take full breaks from a 16 hour work day. Ostensibly workers are entitled to two hours of time, but it hasn’t happened in awhile for me. Things can go out of control pretty quickly at an understaffed table.

There’s also a LOT of attitude from voters that didn’t used to happen. The tablet voter lookup needs a potential voter to show the bar coded card and if you have one with you, life is groovy. But there’s no intelligence test for voters, and I’d say that no more that 20% showed up with the card. The rest seemed annoyed that they had to spell out their names, sometimes repeatedly. Polling places are usually school spaces, and the room we were in had big loud fans in it. That isn’t the pollworkers’ fault, but you couldn’t tell that from the attitude many voters took about it. And that seems to be common with voters who have contempt for people doing work they wouldn’t themselves do. It gets old, especially(again) on a 16 hour day.

The other issue is machinery. The old voting machines involved turning switches and flipping a big lever. Human interaction was pretty limited–you signed people in and they turned the switches and pulled the lever and VOILA. If they screwed up their vote, tough noogies. The post scanner system is reliant on lotsa human interaction–if you screw up your ballot, the polltakers have to issue you a new ballot and create a paper trail explaining why you deserved a second (or sometimes a third) ballot. There’s also a lot of work created by the machines that includes setup, fixing of jams and breakage, etc.

I’m reminded that Canada has paper ballots and can count the whole vote in a few hours. There have been several occasions in my many years of working elections where a count was impossible due to machine problems. The Old machines didn’t need such human tending either. several decades ago, my in-laws (in retirement) decided to supplement their income by working elections. They didn’t have to deal with such machinery and many other issues I deal with, and once you figure their pay after inflation, it wasn’t less than what I get. I would also argue that they dealt with a more informed electorate before the dominance of Fox News and much of the partisan Facebook trollery.

So I’m out. I’ll be a happier person.

* I still need a better and more gender neutral than ‘rule of thumb’.

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