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Posted by on Nov 5, 2008 in Politics, Society | 1 comment

A View from the Trenches

A Line at a Polling Site (obviously, not mine):

Line at Polling Site

Some of you may have noticed that I did not post yesterday. I got up at 4 AM to serve as Presiding Judge (on 4 hours of training) at a precinct located in a Roman Catholic church in a poor and heavily African-American area of Cincinnati. I did not get home until approximately 10 PM and was so exhausted that I was in bed by 11 PM.

We set up Monday night. I was there at the scheduled time of 6 pm but the church was locked and we waited outside 30+ minutes. The Board of Elections had forgotten to give me some really important stuff and was to deliver it at 6 pm but was 90 minutes late. There were 2 precincts in the location and I was the only poll worker in either precinct who was not an African-American.

Of my 4 assigned poll workers, one did not show up and the other 3 could not stop bickering. I quickly realized that 4 hours of training is NOT enough. Maybe next time I can get a group of friends to volunteer with me. We did not finish setting up until 9 pm.

Yesterday, it was very exciting. I got up at 4 AM because the polls were scheduled to open at 6:30 AM and we had to be there at 6:00 AM. The day before, I had ordered and prepaid for a Starbucks Coffee Traveler (carton of fresh-brewed coffee with accessories) to be ready at 5:30 AM for me to pick up and take to our polling place. Before I left my apartment, I phoned the 24-hour Kroger grocery store where the Starbucks is located to confirm that it was ready. No answer, ringing and recordings. So I went to the Kroger and the worker in Starbucks had no idea what I was talking about. I explained that I had pre-paid and asked them to make the coffee and deliver it to my polling place. 4 hours later, after numerous phone calls, our coffee was finally delivered! Unfortunately, one of my poll workers chose to complain that, although 3 kinds of sweetener came with the coffee, no sugar had been delivered! I suggested that she put a piece of chocolate in her coffee.

Somehow, even without coffee, we completed our set-up and got the polls open on time. There was an enormous turnout, more voters than I had ever seen. My poll workers, who were from the neighborhood and knew each other, continued to bicker all day during our few lulls in traffic. I had to tell them that I was neither a policeman nor a babysitter.

Many voters in our precinct had obviously not voted before or had not voted for many years. We had a bunch of voters who messed up their ballots and had to get new ones, sometimes twice. Some voters needed us to read the ballot to them and mark it for them. There is a machine which does that but it was broken for most of the day, so I had to get both a Republican and a Democratic poll worker, one to read the ballot to the voter and the other to mark it for the voter. Several people very carefully filled in the rectangles for each and every presidential ticket – the eScan machine would kick those ballots out. This type of voting problem was usually a clue that the voter could not read. I am concerned that many of our illiterate voters may be poorly-informed.

About one in 7 voters had some sort of problem with their registration and had to vote provisionally. Most had changed their address without updating voter registration. Many did not know which precinct they were in – we tried to figure that out and and send them to the correct precinct and polling site. One woman told me that we were the 3rd place she’d been sent and she wasn’t leaving until she got to vote. Luckily, she was (finally) in the right place!

Another woman came to vote, said ‘I don’t feel good, I think I might pass out’ and then hit the floor. I called 911. Eventually, after maybe 20 minutes, firemen came and checked on her – fortunately, she was able to get up and go home with a friend.

At times it was so noisy at our polling site that we announced that people needed to be quiet because some voters could not concentrate. There were lots of small children, most of whom were really cute. I had brought 4 bags of candy for my poll workers but we ended up giving lots of candy to the kids (with parental permission). Often candy kept the kids quiet long enough for the parent to fill out the ballot.

I chose not to discuss my ballot with anyone.

With a few exceptions, it was mobbed all day long. I took about 3 bathroom breaks and no lunch break. I had brought a loaf of bread and some peanut butter as well as every kind of tool I thought we might need (scissors, paper towels, Sharpies etc…).

Polls closed at 7:30 pm and, in addition to dealing with the ballots, we needed to tear down everything that we had set up. At 9:30 pm I dropped off the ballot bag at the BOE’s collection point in St. Bernard, at 9:45 pm I dropped off 2 of my 3 poll workers at their homes and at 10 pm I got home. Having barely slept Monday night, I was in bed by 11 pm.

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