Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central North Carolina, First Installment —by Jinny Batterson
For this fall’s election, I signed up to train and work at an area polling station during early voting, which started in our area this past Thursday. As our second calendar week starts, I’m recording my impressions of “early” early voting, both as a worker and as an interested citizen.
By the time polls opened on Thursday at 9, a small line had formed at our polling station’s entrance door. One older woman had come on public transportation very early: she had the mistaken impression that hours during early voting were the same as the 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. schedule on Election Day, November 8. The line got longer as the day wore on. At its most extensive, wait time was over two hours. We worked hard to reduce the backlog. One bottleneck was the number of computers available to verify registered voters’ names and addresses—only four as opposed to eight during some previous election cycles. Another difficulty was the number of disabled voters who required curbside assistance—in this case, curbside was several hundred yards from the indoor polling area. Finally, it took our mixed crew of new workers and more seasoned “temps” a while to learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences and to begin to coalesce as a team.
We processed our final voter the first day at about 8:30 p.m.—voting hours had officially ended at 7, but anyone in line then was entitled to vote. Most folks chose to stay rather than risk long lines again some other day. Once managers finished reconciling our tallies, they let us know that we’d processed 1,935 votes, about 140 votes more than the second-highest early voting site in our county for the first day. Our senior manager indicated that this was the heaviest first day turnout she’d seen in the election cycles when she worked early voting. We gave a somewhat tired cheer, went back home, and tried to get a little sleep before the succeeding day’s marathon.
On the second day, although there were still lines, we managed to reduce the wait time for the able-bodied to not much more than an hour at its longest. We recorded slightly over 2,000 votes on Friday. When a brief, hard mid-afternoon shower rained on the outdoor part of the line, former strangers shared umbrellas and stayed calm. We processed our final voter by 7:45. On Saturday, I had a scheduled day off, but went past the polling station a couple of times while out running errands in the neighborhood. The end-of-day tally on the county website showed just over 1,200 votes cast on this weekend day with shorter voting hours.
Despite the sometimes awful campaign rhetoric by many candidates and their surrogates, voters in the small corner of the universe I inhabit were civil to each other. Our lines filled with all ages and ethnicities, from infants in snuggies to nonagenarians; from the palest blondes to the darkest dreadlocks; suits, slacks, and hijabs. Many people came as families. We had special “future voter” stickers for the children, along with an activity table with coloring books and comfortable chairs.
Election workers, whatever our political opinions, checked our partisanship at the door and concentrated on making the voting experience as positive as possible for our “customers,” our fellow citizens.