When I was chair of my former county’s Democratic party, way back in ye olde days of 2012, there came a primary. Remember the one, the primary that was supposed to be in March but then maybe it was going to be in April, and then a bunch of courtroom stuff happened, and it ended up being in late May? You remember the one.
Anyway, as we were gearing up for that primary I hired a nice young man to be primary administrator, so we could find people to work at the polls. And that was that, and I ended up moving and vacating my position before the long-awaited primary could be held.
Then I became a primary administrator myself this year, and got an inside look at exactly what has to happen to accomplish the seemingly simple task of setting up voting machines and allowing people inside to use them. If you’ve never worked an election yourself in any capacity, here are a few facts that will give you an inside look:
The work isn’t difficult – but it’s hard. No, it’s not rocket science to have voters sign in and then hand them a card or a slip of paper so they can access the electronic voting machines. The hard part is the times between – those long hours when no one comes in to vote, for either party’s primary, and you’re sitting in the plastic chair reading your book and wondering whether anyone would notice if you went to take a nap in your car. Notable exception to this rule: the 2008 primary, when the polls were overrun by voters eager to have a say in the Battle of the Democratic Titans. And yes, poll workers do get paid, but for the pitiful hourly rate they earn, it’s practically volunteer work.
People are unreliable. On some level, I already knew this, but I experienced it in all its glory as my coworker and I set out trying to recruit people to work at the poll sites. The nice retired lady around the corner may say she’ll work on Election Day, but that doesn’t mean she won’t break her leg, or come down with strep, or just decide the day before that she’s got better things to do. Stuff happens. And you deal with it.
People are awesome. Like the guy who agreed to be the election judge at a poll site 40 miles from his home because we simply couldn’t find anyone local to do it. Or the woman who was recruited, trained and worked all within the space of a week. Some people are great in a pinch, and elections can be a chance for them to show off their ass-kicking qualities.
Once the job is over, you never want to do it again. But then the call comes…and you go. Because, even though you’re overworked and underpaid, you feel like you own a piece of the election, no matter what the results are. And that is pretty damn cool.