Part of the Process, Part Three

I worked as an election official in the 12th precinct of Arlington County on election day. My day began at 4:55am when we opened the doors to the Fairlington Community Center, and it ended just before 9pm, when we had all signed off on the reports from the day’s endeavours, packed and sealed them, signed them yet again, and gave them to our Chief Judge to be delivered to the Arlington County Board of Election. Contained below are some of my thoughts on working as a election official, some of the details of the day, and some general commentary on elections as a whole. DC is, if nothing else, a town of elections. We depend on them for our importance, derive much of our residency from the results of them, and much of what happens here is because of them, in a way that most other places can barely begin to touch.

I arrived at a little before 5am, as the precinct was opened. We unpacked the large locked cart that arrived the day before (or earlier that morning, I’m not sure), and the chief unpacked her kit that she had audited the night before, and that gave us what we needed to start the machines. We had 5 AVS “WinVOTE” boxes that are little more than platforms for embedded WinXP and a special software/hardware combination that makes the voting process possible. Several of us were given smart cards keys on lanyards that we were not permitted to remove except to give to another election officer. At that point we took the oath of office, well before the sun rose.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs
Once the polling place was setup, two of us checked the pollbooks to make sure that they matched the latest absentee voter lists, and we got ready to receive our voters. When Heather opened the door at 6am, the voters came in and we were underway. The following are my notes from the morning, jotted down in a book for posterity in the few moments we had between batches of voters.

While I am wearing a machine card, I am a pollbook countsheet officer today. I mark down consecutive numbers on a special sheet as people register with our pollbook officer. Each person as they identify themselves to the pollbook officer receives a number that goes by their name, ideally none will be repeated.

One of our voting machines i currently not functional as of about 7am. We’re at 192 voters checked in at this point, of the 2395 in our precinct. Our chief is working on the machine now and it should be back in service shortly.

There is some confusion here as there are two polling places separated by about 100 yards. There have been several voters in the wrong precinct and we’ve had to send them down the hill to the school. Some have taken this well, some have not.

My pollbook officer is E, a contract attorney in the district. S & J are the pollbook officers for the other half of the alphabet. For some reason, we’re very A-K heavy this morning, even though the number of voters is about equal between the two sides of the split.

I’ve now seen just about every ID I thought I ever would. Passports. Diplomatic Passports. Drivers Licenses, Postal Service ID, United States Uniformed Services ID, Pentagon ID. We even had a member of the Secret Service’s Protective Detail in this morning. He was even armed. But so was the Arlington Police Officer who came to vote on his coffee break. ID is a funny thing, when we ask for identification, out come the photo IDs. They don’t realize that their voter reg card, a utility bill or even their car registration will suffice.

We’ve had our first angry voter. They were not on the pollbook and insisted they should have been. A phonecall to the board of elections cleared it up, but it didn’t cheer our person slightly. She was added to the roster and was allowed to vote. Our chief has the hardest job here, as she’s the troubleshooter. Voter not on the roster? Call the chief to check their precinct or call the board. WinVote machine on the fritz? Call the chief. The solutions start at the chief in almost every situation.

Had a 2nd angry Voter, who was misdirected to our precinct. He should have been given the Abingdon School location, and ended up taking it out on our Chief and the Assistant Chief. They did very well at not getting frustrated but giving calm and firm instructions.

One voter just asked us what the legal limit was for campaigners outside a polling place. It’s 40 feet in Arlington, and we marked off that distance with a flag this morning. The voter then remarked that it had changed his vote, but in the opposite direction than the campaigner had desired. Good. Can’t say I disagree at all, I was really hoping they’d take the day off.

Our polling place is quite cold due to the line out the door. We’ve had a line since opening, it’s 38°F outside, and it’s only 8:30. Brrr. Our fifth machine is again in service, and just in time. We’ve already eclipsed 400 voters checked in.

At 9am, 430 voters had checked in.

Best sight of the day so far? 90 year old man in a grey West Coast Choppers Baseball Cap.

It’s now 1:30 and I’m on my first break of the day. 905 voters checked in and counting. We’ve had our first discrepancy, as there have been 904 votes cast, we’re afraid that we’ve either doubled up on a count sheet number, or had a voter check in, then leave the polling station.

We’re down to a slow trickle as of 2pm. Every few hours, someone from the parties comes by and asks for a count, scribbles it down, and then leaves.

A slow drizzle has begun here, and our line has been redirected under the awning to keep folks from getting too wet.

The evening rush is on. It’s 4:30 and we’re full again. I took a stint this afternoon running the voting machines with the smart card, and found it fairly straight forward. Everyone who used them seemed to be okay with it, except for one older man who was quite disgruntled about it. He filed a complaint form with the chief before leaving.

The polls are now closed. The last voter is waiting to vote, the tallies are beginning. Our signs are stuck, the pollbooks are open and awaiting the final count. I am totally amazed, excited and moved. This is the reward for getting up early. This, right here. Today, we assisted as 1,524 people exercised their franchise and voted. This is the process that gets me all excited, no matter who wins. We do this every time. Peaceful transfer of power. It’s an astonishing thing, and I am proud to have taken part.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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