Trust in our election process has lately taken a hit. A recent NPR/Marist Poll found that “40 percent of Americans think that our elections aren’t fair.”
Concerns about gerrymandering, hacking and foreign influence abound. Some people are troubled about voter suppression, while others are worried about fraud. Some just don’t believe their votes will be counted. Misconceptions about what goes on at the polling place are common and can add to the lack of confidence in our democratic system.
Regardless of the political machinations prior to an election, in my 20 years as a volunteer poll-worker, I have always found an across-the-board dedication to facilitating a fair and inclusive Election Day by the Pima County Elections Department and those who work the polls.
If your only experience is popping into a neighborhood church or VFW hall to vote, you may be unaware of the systems, standards and policies set by the county elections department. These help to ensure that fraud is virtually non-existent and that every valid vote counts. Included are paper ballots and stand-alone counting machines that make hacking impossible, provisional ballots and more. Another important bulwark to our democracy are the volunteers who run the polling stations every two years.
We are people of varied political parties and persuasions, from all walks of life, who step-up to serve during the primary and general elections. We are considered employees and official representatives of the elections department for that day and get paid a flat fee. After the mandatory training session, pre-election set-up and the 15 to 18 hour workday, this comes out to about $7 per hour. Here are some highlights of the job:
Our day starts with this oath:
“We, and each of us do solemnly swear that we, and each of us, will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Laws of the State of Arizona; that we will true faith and allegiance bear to the same, and defend them against all enemies whatsoever, and that we will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties imposed on and assigned us by law.”
I surveyed my colleagues during the last primary. When I asked how many got goosebumps, chills or choked up during the recitation, about 80 percent said “Yes.” Throughout the day, everyone showed by word and deed that they took the pledge to heart.
All the positions (clerks, marshals, inspectors and judges) have clear and detailed manuals to guide them. Help for unforeseen or knotty problems during the election is a phone call away. Representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties (the judges) are required to stay with the ballots from the time they are unsealed until they hand the resealed completed ballots to election officials at the county elections department (the official count is also live-streamed).
Each voter must present us with some form(s) of identification and then sign a signature roster. Should there be a problem (usually a lack of proper ID) they are directed to the Special Situations table where two clerks assist them. Here they receive a provisional ballot. Once cast, it goes into a special envelope and a receipt is issued. When the proper documentation is brought to the Recorder’s office, the vote is validated and becomes part of the official tally.
At 6 p.m., a clerk steps outside and in “a loud, clear voice” states that the polls will close in an hour. This happens again at 30 minutes, then 15 minutes and finally at one minute before the election ends. At 7 p.m., a clerk announces, again in “a loud, clear voice,” that the polls are closed. If people are still waiting to vote at that time, they are not turned away. A clerk or marshal stands behind them to mark the end of the line. Any latecomers are politely informed that the election is now over.
After the last vote is cast, the ballots are counted and recounted several times to ensure that none have gone missing. Once we finish packing up the supplies and equipment, the Inspector and the Ballot Issuing Judge (representatives of both major parties) drive together in the same vehicle to deliver the ballots to the elections department. The rest of us get to go home to a nice hot bath or warm bed.
Working the polls is exhausting, but I have always felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction and pride afterwards. Consider taking the day off from work (or letting an employee do so). Not only is it a great way to serve your community and learn how the system actually works, but you may come away with a feeling of affinity for those with whom you disagree politically. As a fellow worker said to me: “It’s not that we have a lot in common, it’s that we have enough in common.”
There is always a need for workers, and it is not too late to sign up for the general election in November. Come join us! Go online to webcms.pima.gov/government/elections_department/ under the “Poll Workers” tab.
Larry Waters is a copywriter, editor, co-owner of High Fidelity Writing Services LLC and a volunteer poll worker in Pima County.