Tag Archives: poll workers

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 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.