Tag Archives: early voting

Talleying Votes

Partial early voting line at Talley NCSU on a nice autumn day

For the past week or so, I’ve been serving on the “early shift” as a non-partisan election official at the polls at Talley Student Center at NC State University. We’re just over halfway through North Carolina’s 17 days of early voting. Turnout has been a lot heavier than in previous election cycles, even during this covid-19 pandemic. Overall unofficial voting statistics are posted online each evening after the polls closed, and I’ve followed the burgeoning numbers with interest (http://www.wakegov.com/elections/Pages/default.aspx).

In our mostly urban county, about 1/3 of currently registered voters have already cast ballots in person. Because of continued litigation and voter uncertainty, it’s not totally clear how many absentee ballots have been cast, but our early site each day gets a trickle of personally delivered absentee forms from area voters unsure of the speed or reliability of postal mail return.  

The campus is emptier of students than it would be in a non-covid year, but most days so far have featured warm, sunny autumn weather that allows for socially distanced outdoor studying, playing, dining, and waiting in voting lines. We get a fair number of voters who sport NCSU themed masks, shirts or t-shirts. On the second day of voting, it rained until mid-afternoon, but voters waited with umbrellas anyway, and our overall voter total surpassed opening day.  

The pandemic has changed some of the logistics of early voting. Our site benefited indirectly from pandemic changes on the campus—we have a much bigger, airier enclosure for this year’s voting process, with 64 socially distanced stations for filling out ballots. All staff members are required to wear protective face masks, with face shields and protective gloves recommended. Each worker’s station has a protective plastic barrier in front of it. Hand sanitizer and cleaning solutions are abundant and frequently used. Extra masks and gloves are available for voters who want them but do not have their own. Voters may opt to vote without masks if they choose, but few so far have made that choice.

The basic voting process remains the same: voters first check in with an application table official to make sure their voting record is current. If all checks out, they take a printed “application to vote” form to a ballot station where they exchange the ATV for one of the many ballot styles for different addresses in our county. Each voter hand-feeds his/her completed ballot into a voting tabulator, with the option of getting an “I voted early” sticker to go with the individual “covid-19 souvenir” pen he/she was given at the voting enclosure entrance. One continuing feature of early voting in North Carolina is “same day registration”—new or new-to-county voters may present appropriate identification to register and vote on the same day. 

Voting rules preclude me from taking notes about individual voters, but a few of the voters I’ve processed have been memorable beyond note taking. One older man came in the first or second day, carrying two large tote bags and rolling a suitcase. His skin was roughened, his clothes somewhat worn. His registration information was in the voter database; I couldn’t tell whether his address indicated a homeless shelter. 

Partly because our building is near the campus athletic complex, we get a fair number of sports players and coaches of both genders and multiple ethnicities. My favorite so far has been a recently-turned-18 basketball player fresh from practice who appeared with several shorter teammates. His head was well above the top of my plastic barrier. He was careful to maintain social distance while he gave me his name and address. Someone else with exactly the same name, but a different address and earlier birth date, lived in our county. 

“Are you by any chance a ‘junior’”? I asked. 

“Yes!” he answered. “Would it be hard to add that to my record?” 

“No problem.”  I always enjoy making the name and address changes that can be done during early voting with minimal hassle.

After I’d made the change and printed out his name change and ATV forms, I noticed an older, less tall gentleman in the background who might have been either a coach or the “senior.”  Reassured that his player or son would get to vote unimpeded, the older man left.

What We Pay Attention To Matters

What We Pay Attention To Matters     —by Jinny Batterson

Here in North Carolina, we have the option of voting early—this election cycle, nearly three weeks early.  On the very first day of the eighteen days set aside for early voting in the county where I live, I cast my ballot.  I’d earlier signed up to work as a non-partisan election official at one of the early voting sites in our county.  Mostly because of this temporary job (and because I need to spend at least some of my time sleeping), I’ve been sheltered from widespread exposure to news events and negative campaign advertising. This has proved to be a real blessing. 

Once I finish my early shift at about 2 in the afternoon, I come home, take a nap, take a walk, share an evening meal with my husband, then bed down early so I can repeat the cycle, starting at about 4:30 a.m. the following day.  I’ve been vaguely aware of hateful tweets and sporadic violence, but mostly I’ve spent my after-dark hours sleeping and my before-dark hours either working or enjoying the autumn weather outdoors. 

On the job, we’re forbidden to talk politics, a wise decision, I believe. Still, from some of the partial stories other workers have shared with me, I get the impression that we represent a pretty wide range of backgrounds and political persuasions. We have younger workers, some coping with student debt, others concerned about underemployment—mismatches between the skills they’ve trained for and the jobs they’ve found so far. We have middle aged workers who worry about aging parents and/or the fluctuations in their 401Ks in a volatile stock market.

The long and short of voting at a central NC early voting site

We come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, from a petite ballot handler to a former basketball center. Some older “temps” are retirees like me; others still work part-time, sandwiching in scant time for personal lives amid hectic work schedules. One of my 60ish coworkers has a vocabulary that suggests he may not have had the same chances for formal education that I did. His line of patter can sometimes border on bigotry, yet he spent some of his off-hours last week comforting a colleague whose wife had a terminal illness. 

Our range of voters also is wide—from the just-turned-18 to a frail elderly woman whose grandson wheeled her up the elevator and into the voting area to cast her ballot one more time. She was born in 1920, the year that women in the U.S. first obtained the right to vote in national elections.  We see office workers on their lunch hours, professors eager to encourage their students to vote, students puzzled about voting procedures, custodians, construction workers, and others whose dress and demeanor defy easy labeling. 

It would be unrealistic to believe that our democracy is in great shape. Being subjected to predictably inflammatory tweets, predictably bloody lead news stories, and predictably negative campaign advertising can be discouraging. Whatever the outcome of this current voting cycle, we will have lots of work to do to help heal some of the breaches in our social fabric, whether we are citizens or elected officials. Yet I’m encouraged by the civility of the voters and polling officials in the small corner of the electorate where I work. Many people DO show up to vote, over a million so far in North Carolina. They wait in line, sometimes chatting with each other. They’re glad to get their ballots and to make their opinions known.  Perhaps if we pay more attention to what’s going well, we may be in a better position to help alleviate what’s not. 

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 3

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central North Carolina, Third Installment                                   —by Jinny Batterson

After an exhausting week, our early voting team processed our final voter at about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon. Polls officially closed at 1 p.m., but anyone in line then was entitled to cast a ballot. With each successive day of the week, lines got longer—on Monday and Tuesday, we were generally able to keep the wait time to an hour or less. On Saturday morning, before we even opened at 9, the line snaked around the edges of the parking lot and spilled over into a nearby field, requiring more crowd control chains to keep it at least partly organized. Many voters waited for two hours or more.

The site where I worked this past week is in a part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle that has a substantial Asian population. We processed more than a few Patels, along with some Wangs, Zhangs and Nguyens.  I was somewhat surprised at the number of voters with Hispanic surnames who came to our site to cast their ballots. Many voters of all backgrounds came in family groups. Our youngest “future voter” was only three days old.  Children were generally well-behaved, but most evenings produced at least one cranky toddler (not surprising given the wait times).  A few assistance dogs went through the lines with their voters; at least one wheelchair-bound voter cast his ballot, as did a few voters with vision or hearings impairments who used a special machine that provided magnification and voice-overs of ballot choices.      

According to our local TV news channel, by the end of today’s voting, nearly 44% of eligible voters in our county had cast ballots, either in person or by mail, a new record, surpassing the 2012 total by over 40,000 votes. I’m glad I had a chance to facilitate the process. Whatever the election’s outcome, I’m heartened to see so many people turn out to vote. During wait times, voters often chatted with their line-mates. As people approached the voting area, I saw some handshakes and exchanges of contact information. I tried not to prejudge which people would be likely to support which candidates. Except for a few enthusiasts of all persuasions who sported strident slogans on their clothing, it was impossible to tell. We poll workers were given very strict instructions about the sanctity of the secret ballot.

I’m about as tired as I’ve ever been. As a non-partisan worker, I get two days respite before Election Day on Tuesday. Maybe I’ll catch up on sleep and exercise just a bit.  However, I’m grateful to have had a chance to bear direct witness as nearly 20,000 of my fellow citizens exercised their right to choose their elected officials—officials who’ll help direct our schools, our courts, our county government, our state and our nation. Whatever our democracy’s flaws, and they are many, our actual voting process can be a beautiful thing.    

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 2

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central North Carolina, Second Installment                                  —by Jinny Batterson

By now, the early voting period for this fall’s election is more than half over where I live. For the first few days this week, I worked at a high-volume site, one of nine opened for a full period of early voting in our county. Midweek, I had part of a day off, then resumed work at a smaller, later-opening station.

So far, my favorite task has been greeting potential voters at the front door. We’ve had beautiful weather. Standing at a sunny entrance bragging just a bit about our previous days’ vote totals is enjoyable. I also get to explain in a low-key way some ground rules for indoor behavior—cell phones on mute or vibrate, no electronic communications in the voting booth, no photo ID required unless needed to verify name and address of a first-time voter. Because voting rules have changed several times since the previous presidential election, the introduction serves to minimize potential problems. For me, what has been most enjoyable of all is a chance to see the variety of voters and to interact with some just a bit. 

At both sites, our workload has been steady enough so that there’s little time for chitchat. Staff and voters are careful to avoid partisanship inside the voting enclosure. I’m not sure what proportion of the voting population at either polling station belongs to which political party. I’m pretty sure there have been at least a few Libertarian voters.  One independent-minded gentleman volunteered the information that he’d written in his mother for president. We’ve processed at least one voter who wore a burka, a few who were blind and brought seeing relatives to assist them, more with mobility problems who needed to vote without leaving their parked cars. A few retirement centers have sent their activity busses. Because each poll worker can process just one voter at a time, a twelve-seater bus can take quite a while to clear.

Once the official closing time for each day’s polling has passed, the voting enclosure gets quieter. As the last few voters complete their ballots, it becomes almost totally still. As soon as the final vote has been tabulated and the final voter exits, a flurry of activity erupts—reconciling the ballot totals for the day, cleaning out voting booths, tidying work areas, preparing supplies for the succeeding day’s balloting.     

This coming week will be the final week of early voting. Then a two-day respite before a very long election day on November 8.  About 22% of the eligible voters in our county have taken advantage of early voting so far, enough to relieve some of the pressure when election day finally arrives.

Pre-Dawn Walk

Pre-Dawn Walk     —by Jinny Batterson

A Friday. Halfway through early voting
Days in my suburban North Carolina county.

Yesterday, a group of us election workers
Switched sites from a high-volume
Rec center to a much smaller church
Fellowship hall, part of the county’s
Second tier of early voting sites. 

Work days have been long and intense.
Staff gatherings, rotating assignments,
Nearly constant activity. Yesterday, I’d fallen
Asleep before 9; I awoke before 6.

Not yet light. Quick check of weather app—
Clear, cool enough for a jacket.
A respite from media election hysteria
Seems in order. Instead of the TV, I step outside.
Enough time for a brief walk before work.

In our condo complex, the first
House lights are blinking on.
No traffic. Even when I reach the
Main road, few cars.  A school bus
Lumbers by, rooftop strobe flashing.

The thinnest sliver of a waning moon
Does little to compete with the stars.
Orion, the constellation signaling
Waning heat, rides higher in the dark.

As I return home, the east begins
To pale. Fainter stars wink out.
Orion’s belt is still visible, just. 

A few weeks earlier, I’d posted a favorite
Frost poem on the fridge door as a sanity check:
“…Choose something like a star,
To stay our minds on…”

Now, gathering ingredients for a good
Breakfast, I skim Frost for refreshment, too.
The coming day’s voter encounters feel less daunting–
More calling than chore. Dawn creeps across the sky. 

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 1

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.