Tag Archives: vignettes of voting

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 4

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 4   —by Jinny Batterson

Election Day is now over. After a couple of days in which many of us got little sleep, regardless of our political preferences, it’s time to pick up the pieces and begin the transition to the administrations that will come next for our county, state, and nation. From my limited vantage point, local election officials where I live did their best to insure a free and fair election. 

However, I have some reservations about whether our current processes accurately reflect our evolving society. First are the sometimes intermingled issues of immigrant rights and voter education. Some of the citizens who voted at polling places where I worked had limited English. Others had minimal knowledge of local electoral practices. One slightly humorous example was the dignified older lady in a sari who inquired whether her half filled oval on the ballot choice for a half cent tax increase for mass transit was correct—after all, it said “half.”    

Next is the issue of those who move frequently—more often the young, the economically stressed, and the elderly.  One evening during early voting, officials tried in vain to establish a “votable address” for a man who’d been living in his car for several months.  On election day, our poll books were peppered with “address verification” notifications, mostly for younger, minority voters.

There’s also a problem with getting the workforce at the polls to reflect a valid cross-section of likely voters.  One of the preconditions of my temporary employment this election season was “reliable transportation.”  In the spread-out suburbs where I live, this requirement nearly always translates to a private car and/or comfortable financial means—public transportation is spotty at best, with multi-hour commutes required to reach outer communities of the county. 

Limiting access to the ballot via variations of “photo ID” requirements for in-person voting are making voting more difficult for some already struggling with exclusion. Those favoring photo ID often argue that such additional identification will stave off voter fraud, that other forms of transactions—cashing a check, boarding an airplane, overseas travel—already require such ID, and that legal safeguards have been built in to enable everyone to obtain the needed ID at no cost. These arguments have several flaws: 1) no photo ID is required for mail-in ballots, where fraud is most likely to occur; 2) for some folks outside the comfortable middle class, existing photo IDs are rare, along with bank accounts, air travel, or overseas jaunts; 3) the same transportation issues mentioned above for working the polls apply to reaching the government offices where photo IDs are available. Younger voters, especially, suggest that the same arguments advanced for photo IDs should also support online voter registration and balloting—“If I can bank online, why can’t I register and vote online?” 

Finally, there’s a deepening disconnect between our technological capacities and our ability to maintain civil human contact.  Early on election day, someone told me that a campaign scam was targeting young voters, saying they could cast their ballots via text message—no need to show up at the polls. It seemed plausible. Younger, more “wired” generations are accustomed to conducting most of their affairs online—standing shoulder to shoulder with others in a voting line may represent their most extensive direct interpersonal contact in a good while. 

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.