(Open Thread) — My Day as an Election Worker

Vote Here Sign. Photo by Jay Phagan.

Yesterday I gave you a really short version of my day working Thursday’s election. Today is the longer, more detailed version.

First off, we had a combined primary and general election, which was kind of confusing for some voters. Basically, we have a primary in May for local (City/County level races). In August, we have a general for those May contests, as well as a primary for state and federal races. Also, we vote to reaffirm or replace state Supreme and Appeals court judges once every eight years; and as it happened, this was one of those years. All of this made our ballots really LONG. It was four pages on two sheets. We vote with paper ballots, and each rectangle had to be completely filled in, using a ball point pen. Needless to say, this created a bit of a bottleneck, because voters could easily spend 20 minutes filling out this monster.

There are several positions election workers have at the polls. First, there’s the Precinct Officer, who’s in charge of everything and gives the rest of us our assignments. The PO has a LOT to do, and Election Day for them begins the day before, with picking up the equipment from “the warehouse,” to putting up the 100 ft boundary signs around the polling place–as well as any other signage, like rules for voters’ behavior, signage directing voters where to go, etc.–to placing equipment and supplies at the polling location. On Election Day, the PO oversees setting up the space, fills out a lot of paperwork, as well as handles any issues that arise. Issues can include: a voter doesn’t appear in the voter book, a voter has moved, a voter made a mistake on their ballot and it has to be spoiled, there’s an equipment failure or other problem. (There’s more than that, but those are the issues we had at our precinct.) And once the election’s over, the PO has to drive everything back to the City-County building. (I got to ride along for this, and OMG, unloading the vehicles was insane! It was like they were a pit crew working the Indy 500! Each worker called out an item they were retrieving: “Payroll sheet!” “Orange ballot bag!” and they had a marked up checklist for the PO to sign in about a minute.)

Then there’s the election worker giving voters their ballot application, which is an affidavit affirming the voter has a legal right to cast a ballot. This was my job for most of the day. The way our precinct was set up, I was the first person voters saw when they arrived at the polling place so I made a point of putting on my best smile and giving them a nice greeting. Then I told them what I was giving them, walked them quickly through how to fill out the form, and then to mark which primary ballot they wanted. I was told how to phrase this without being partisan. (I’d usually use the cap-end of my pen to circle that box and say, “And then you mark which primary you want to vote in here.”)

The next station voters visited was the Registrar table, where the voter books were located. I worked this area when we weren’t super-busy in the early afternoon, so that I could be trained in more than one job. (This was my very first day working as an EW, after all, so it was all about giving me varied experience.) The Registrar would take the ballot application from the voter, as well as their photo ID (we only checked DOB and that the face matched the person). We’d look them up in the book, use a highlighter pen to indicate where they needed to sign the book (and make it easy to see who had voted and who hadn’t for whoever will be going through the books later), verify that the address in the book and on the application form matched, and then add in information like the application form number, which primary they were voting in, and then adding in our initials (so if there’s a problem later, they know which EW to ask about it). On the ballot application, we had to write in which TN House race they were voting in (some precincts had two different ones! More about that later), and which County Commission/school board district they were in, along with our initials. This might well be the job that’s easiest to screw up, as there was a lot you had to do. The Registrar who was training me apparently was pleased that I picked it up very quickly and didn’t need her to sit there monitoring my actions. (The PO told me later that both she and the Registrar were really impressed with me; so that made me feel good!)

Once you had the voter taken care of there, they move on to the Ballot Station, where they are given their ballot, along with instruction to fill out the rectangles completely, and avoid making any stray marks, especially near the bar codes. As mentioned above, we use paper ballots which are on 8.5″ x 14″ sheets. At our precinct (and this was true at 58 out of 78 precincts in our county), we used preprinted ballots which came on a pad. The two sheets of the ballot were consecutively printed on each pad; so the ballot workers tore off the voter’s 2-sheet ballot all at once. Rather than simply tear off each ballot from the top of the pad, we were instructed to fold the ballot at the perforation (which was about three inches from the top of the sheet) and then tear it off there. (This was done so that we had a stub remaining on the pad. This stub was part of what is preserved to ensure each ballot is a legitimate ballot which can be matched back to a stub, thus being one step in preventing election fraud.) The Republican and Democratic primary ballots were marked in a way they could be identified at a glance. (GOP ballots had a blue stripe at the top; democratic ballots were plain white.)

Of the remaining 20 precincts, they were printing ballots on demand, as was done during early, in-person voting. This is because we had 20 precincts which had been split up into two different TN House districts. So in those precincts, it was vitally important that the Registrar record the correct information on each voter’s ballot application so that they would receive the proper ballot at the ballot station. In these cases, the ballot workers would then print up the appropriate ballot. (In case you’re wondering why we had ballot printing on demand during early voting, it’s because we only had 10 precincts open at that time, so most voters couldn’t cast their ballots in their home precinct. Every location had to accommodate every possible variation of races a voter might need and then be able to print that ballot for them. But on Election Day, all voters were required to vote in their home precinct, eliminating the need for on-demand ballots in most cases.)

With ballot in hand, each voter then went to the voting stations to cast their vote. This was done at long tables with privacy screens put up, so that they could keep their vote secret. Our location started with only five voting stations. When we got really busy in the middle of the day, an Election Inspector showed up (he’d been at our location in the morning because of an issue we had then) and was told we needed more stations. He and our PO immediately found a solution; our polling place was at a school, and they had folded up the usual tables which the teachers used (we were set up in their large break room), so we opened up one of the tables, put up some privacy screens, and voila! Problem solved!

Once the voter finished their ballot, they went to the scanner. We were a person short, so nobody was there stationed at the scanner, but one of the Ballot Table EW’s would go over and walk them through what they needed to do. While I was helping pack up everything after the election, I noticed a guide for the Verity scanner and looked it up. This is the scanner we used for our paper ballots. If you click on the link, you can see what the scanner basically does. What it can’t do is insert some algorithm to flip votes. As far as I could tell, the scanner isn’t connected to the internet at all. It certainly isn’t sending votes to Spain or Germany and then getting them back, all so they could somehow be changed. The scanner reads both sides of the ballot at once and records votes cast for each candidate for each race. Then it creates a tape of all the votes it’s recorded at the end of the night. That’s it.

One task that is done in the morning is called “running the zero tape.” When you set up the scanner, you create a tape which prints out every race on the ballot, and then shows there are zero votes stored on the machine for that race. Meaning the scanner is empty of any votes. This tape is signed by the PO and at least two EWs (one from each party). At the end of the day after the polls have closed, we run what’s called a “tally tape” which prints out the votes cast in each race, with the results. We print three copies of the tally tape, one is left inside the machine’s case, and sealed inside with a zip-tie seal. Another is posted on the wall of the polling place. A third is sent to the clerk’s office so that it can be recorded. The tally tape has to reflect the same number of ballots cast as the ballot stubs and paper ballots and ballot applications all record. This tally tape also has to be signed by the PO and at least two EWs of different parties. This is yet another safeguard against widespread election fraud, and why it’s so ridiculous when conspiracists insist it’s a real thing… (BTW, because of something the Registrar said to me, I kept my own independent record of how many ballot applications we’d given out to voters. It perfectly matched the number of votes the scanner/tabulator had on the tally tape at the end of the night.)

Because we used preprinted paper ballots, any excess ballots had to be destroyed after the polls closed. This was one of my jobs. First the unused ballots were removed from the stubs, just like we’d do if they were used. Then each ballot had to be torn in half. The torn ballots and stubs had to go in the ballot bag, along with the cast ballots and stubs. Again, all this is a way of confirming the same number of ballots went to the precinct and left it on election night. Not just the same number, but that the ID numbers on the stub match with the ID numbers on each ballot. So, yeah… widespread fraud would be really hard if not impossible in this system, because those who created the procedure already thought of the weaknesses and addressed them with safeguards.

Every single piece of equipment had a seal on it, to prevent any tampering. The ballot bag had a seal on it, as well. If anything arrived at the City-County building without a seal, that would be reason for a major investigation.

So, as I said in yesterday’s column, if you can do so, please volunteer to be an election worker. There’s a tremendous need and it’s a fun experience.

As always, this is an open thread. Feel free to discus whatever you like in the comments below. And remember that tomorrow’s film noir is called “Dangerous Crossing,” and you can find a link to watch it for free on YouTube by searching on “Dangerous Crossing full movie.”

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