On Tuesday, Georgia held its primary election and as we know, it was a mess. For the first time ever, I worked as an election official at a poll booth in Fulton county. Here’s my experience:
First I want to set the record clear, I was paid. There are volunteers out there, but as for the 7 people that worked the St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church location, we were all paid. Some were employed by the state I believe but I was hired through a staffing agency. I speculate that when it came time for people to be assigned at the polling locations, people in charge realized it was going to be majorly understaffed. Speculating this because they were doing callouts for help just DAYS before the election…and I didn’t even get assigned until 8:00pm THE DAY BEFORE. So from the start it seems like it was bound to be a shit show, but also, COVID-19 certainly had a hand in the performance.
Covid and the introduction of BRAND NEW machines.
Let me walk you through my day, which began at 6:00am. I show up to my first assignment, declare who I was and what my purpose was “Hi, I’m here to help with the election, I’m from a staffing agency” In return I get a confused, basically pissed off human looking back at me barking “I’m full, I don’t need staff. I’m fully staffed and don’t need help” OH OK. Off to a great start.
As I’m trying to explain, another woman walks in and says she’s from Fulton County Library Services and received an email to report to this location for polling help. She gets the same treatment as I got. As it turns out (I got this information from 2 different librarians), librarians got an email at 6:00pm June 8th saying “You must report to help, otherwise you risk termination” (paraphrased by me)
Going back to the speculation, it felt like the election planners panicked last minute and pulled resources from where they could. Just given the frantic hiring of unexperienced people like myself.
6:15ish and I’m getting nowhere with this election official so I’m emailing my recruiter explaining the situation who miraculously gets back to me (she was unresponsive up until this very point through my entire on-boarding) and says she’s trying to call her supervisor and after two attempts emails me back and gave me a new polling location. I make it over to the church and get a very different welcome. They appear overwhelmed (it’s 10 min till voting opens…) and thankful I’m there to help.
LETS DO THIS, put me to work, what needs to happen? I get told “hang these signs” which are signs about cell phones and various rules (shouldn’t these be up by now??) Got tape? No, just use what you can. I’m laughing typing this because I remember going “cool cool cool” and walking outside and digging up a rock to lean this sign up against the wall and it looking so pathetic. I think, what could I use instead… VOTING STICKERS. Using dozens I hang all these signs around the church and then afterwards the same woman who told me to “use what I could ” says “oh here’s the tape” which was in a materials box designated for this very use. *face palm emoji*
Meanwhile, we SHOULD be open and ready to go, but we are not. There’s a line, it’s HOT and humid and people are getting antsy. One guy walks in and shouts about the delay and that there are old women standing outside in this heat and it’s not right. Luckily there’s fold out chairs we are able to provide while the polling manager and assistant are STILL doing operations to open the ballot machines. I couldn’t believe we were still doing these types of opening protocol. Especially after learning some of them were there Sunday to train. As we’re scrambling to open, myself and another gal take it upon ourselves to divvy up tasks since the manager is sweating bullets realizing some of the machines aren’t cooperating. It was around 7:15am.
I take the task of making sure we get the stylus and voter card returned and sanitized as well as pointing the voter in the direction of the scanner for the paper ballot. The voter card wasn’t a new aspect but printing the paper ballot and having to scan, was. It even threw me for a loop because I didn’t realize this until day of. After we finally got opened and things started rolling, it quickly got rocky. The two people signing in voters were first-timers and had some difficulties. One of them, an assistant manager, moved to the provisional ballot table so a runner, who had gotten some training, stepped in and worked alongside her husband for the entire day. I mention this because they ended up turning away a dozen or more voters because of their lack of training. We’ll get back to that.
At some point I’m told the manager wants to talk to me. I walk over and he tells me read and sign a paper, it’s my “swearing in” basically saying I won’t do anything illegal or fraudulent. Very basic and seemed like something that should have been done earlier on, but I digress.
We all work out kinks, and get in a swing until around 3:00pm our one and only scanner gets a paper jam. As we’re troubleshooting a line forms and everyone’s watching the manager. He’s trying to open the door to the equipment inside and he’s fumbling with the keys, drops them multiple times and to myself and others, appears to not know what he’s doing. He then cuts zip ties, that he’ll later have to document, and pauses and says “we’ll use the emergency slot, this is what it’s for” and re-zips the doors and closes everything back up. He didn’t even ATTEMPT to unjam the scanner and many people saw this and were like, what’s going on? We’re supposed to SCAN our ballots, this doesn’t seem right” which I didn’t blame them. But we had to explain that it’s jammed and that their vote would absolutely count the same as any other and it was OK. That didn’t go over well with some and one guy shouted about it being a waste of paper and that he’s an engineer and this was “stupid.”
That got me thinking about the paper aspect. Why are we using paper when we’re voting digitally? Given Georgia’s past, think Kemp vs Abrams, a paper TRAIL is the purpose. To those who inquired about it, I explained it as “a two factor authentication, to verify that how you voted digitally has a backup confirmation” But overall it does suck to need that, with the overall LACK of trust and also the WASTE of paper.
Back to the day.
After the jam debacle, most new voters didn’t notice the lack of a scanner, though a few did and suspiciously asked “why aren’t we scanning?” but other than that, we didn’t have any other major technical issues. At one point one of the Ipads used to check in folks was malfunctioning but I think it was user error. As I mentioned the husband-wife duo checking people in could have used more training, especially with how to handle certain situations, like if a voter was at the wrong precinct.
Something you probably heard in the news or experienced yourself was the closures and miss-assignments of precincts. We had this happen a lot. Voter gets to check in and it says they’re at the wrong location, voter says WHAT I’VE BEEN VOTING HERE FOR 25 YEARS. Ok, no problem, you can vote provisionally. What the husband and wife duo said was “you’re at the wrong location, you need to log onto My Georgia Voter page and see where your location is and you can vote there or if you want, you can vote provisionally”
While yes, that’s true they can do that, the way they approached it scared people off. They’ve already shown up, waited in line, and they want to get in and out. Not get told a website they’ve likely never been to and that they have to leave and do this all again. There were about 7 people I grabbed before they left mad, and explained what voting provisionally meant (something the check ins were not doing, I didn’t know what that term was either until Tuesday) because you never know if the voter is going to say eh, too much effort and then NOT VOTE. The manager even told them multiple times “we don’t send people away” but I know for sure of two instances where voters left because they were confused and angry. It was all pretty sloppy to put it nicely.
At one point during a slow moment, I said I needed to vote. To which I was told “oh no, you can’t vote where you work, you should have voted early, but don’t worry, you can vote on the run off” *red fuming face emoji* I then explained that I was assigned only HOURS ago to work today so not voting is NOT an option. The assistant manager said “well if you want to confirm, you can call the registrars official, here’s his cell” I called and got a mailbox full. Tried his office and it went straight to voicemail. Realizing the irony of working ALL day at a polling location and not being able to vote, I was determined. Finally got a hold of this official who after hearing I was last minute assigned, gave me permission. Fearing my word wasn’t going to be good enough, I had him tell the manager but overall it felt very loosey goosey. Like rules only kind of meant something but whatever, I got to cast my ballot, provisionally.
Like the news reported, we were running out of provisional voting supplies because so many voters had the precinct mix up or an absentee ballot did not arrive.
If you can’t tell, my precinct was on a more grass roots level. It’s voter population is around 1800 (from a resident source, not confirmed) and it was run very…low key. What I’m getting at is if your grandma needed help with the ballot, or your daughter wanted to ask a question, whoever, we let it happen. There were multiple times people straight up had their phones out, or asked me a question about a candidate or conversed with their relative. I legit heard a family vote on someone based on their name, lol. I’ve been there, but this time I had studied the night before, and wrote down a list. A couple of times I was asked about the questions at the end, you know, the ones that are phrased weird to throw people off. Protocol or not, I gave them a summary of the issue and let them do the voting themselves. My opinion is there should be a short, menu-like summary of candidates and the questions. Example, Candidate A, pro-choice, tighten gun laws, reform police. Then if you’re showing up mostly as a civic duty, you can vote with some knowledge. But I’m sure this has been thought of before.
Another ballot issue we came across is that when I asked the voter to review their paper ballot and make sure it reflected what they voted on the screen, it was then they’d realize some of the votes were BLANK. To be fair to the system, it did give a small text warning at the top but still let the voter print. This warning should have been center screen and more bold. A few of the voters who had blank votes returned and started over, but I know of many that said whatever and casted it anyways.
Things slowed down and the voters that did trickle in we were able to handle with no hiccups (aside from moments with the check-ins scaring people off) and then, we got word the polls were staying open until 9:00pm because of all the delays elsewhere. It had already been a long day on our feet, with no lunch break and wearing a mask and gloves was past the point of annoying and now we had two additional hours added.
We were told the protocol for “extended hours” was to file the ballots separately. The new procedure was to take the voting tools and then hand the voter an envelope they were to place their ballot in and on the outside write their name, birthday, how they voted: REP or DEM and address. This alarmed many voters. “Why is my vote being treated differently?” good question. “Why am I writing this information on the outside when it’s all here on this paper?” another good question. Not that it was fact, but I explained we thought it was for statistical purposes, so that when tallying votes they knew which were during the extended hours. Had we still been using the scanner, I think this could have been figured out digitally but that ship had long sailed as no technician ever showed up.
Around 8:30pm, everyone was pooped but we worked together to break down the tables and chairs that were no longer needed and get to point that when the doors closed it was only voting machines that needed tending to. When around 9:08 rolled around and I realized the manager, assistants and runners were going to be there for god knows how long, myself and the librarian who technically weren’t trained on the protocol said “we gotta go” … 15 hours and we’d had enough with the leadership’s incompetence.
All in all it was an experience I’ll never forget. I’m thankful I was paid, I am jobless after all, because had it been on a volunteer basis, I’m not sure it would have been worth all the effort. I’m also glad I was there to take some of the situations into my own hands, put out a few fires and help voters. Being assigned to a smaller precinct was a huge blessing too. Had I been at a large location with real bad technical difficulties and long wait times, who KNOWS what kind of post I’d be writing.
If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer.
I’ve shared a story on my Instagram post about an election official I bonded with, an older black women from Birmingham, Alabama who had some STORIES. I could have listened and picked her brain for hours!
Thanks for reading and hope you didn’t get TOO frustrated with your voting experience.