Michiana Chronicles: Musings On Being A Poll Worker

Nov 12, 2020

I am NOT a morning person…..but on November 3rd, I was already warming up the car at 4:35 am with coffee, snacks and trepidation. The plan hatched last month when my 18-year old son, looking to add spice into his life beyond taking college classes on-line in his childhood bedroom, signed up to be a poll worker. Given COVID, I realized the older seasoned poll workers may not be showing up. What better time for a great civics lesson for both of us! Our assignments came by phone a week later - poll clerks at separate locations - we got a few hours of socially-distanced training at the City-County building – and were set….sort of.

A voter checks with the registration table as she prepares to cast her ballot under a giant mural at Robious Elementary school in Midlothian, Va., Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020.
Credit Steve Helber / AP File Photo

As I approached the polling station to report for duty at 5 am I wondered who the heck gets up this early. But there they were – couples, workers in identical uniforms, other early-risers already huddled in line or waiting in their cars with thermoses of hot coffee anticipating a long wait until the polls opened at six.

It brought me back to a church basement in upstate New York long before iPads and hanging chads. My mother would drag me and my younger sister and brother with her to the polling place where the smells of the potluck lunch and baked goods brought by the poll workers let us know we were entering a sacred space. When it was her turn, she would gather the three of us all holding onto her legs, enter the voting booth, pull the black curtain and begin to move the levers to indicate her choices “click, click, click” and then one big swish of the red handle to register her votes. Within seconds it was over, we emerged blinking back into the light.

I kept going back to that memory as parents came to the polls that day with strollers, car seats, snacks and a lot of patience. This time though, as voters silently tapped the tablets to register their votes, one child yelled “I want to play!” convinced that her Mom was hiding the latest computer game from her. Finally, the sound of the printer discharging the ballot provided a distraction and it was off to the next station. After gathering the kids and all their things, they paraded over to the final certification area and the ballot-scanning device or what is known as the O.V.O or OVO. For the three and over crowd this was the time for potential participation – helping feed the ballot into the hungry OVO machine – which was often met with delight. And with that and the green light confirmation they were off to the parking lot with very little fanfare, probably hungry but seemingly content, without the slightest expectation for an “I voted” sticker.

In contrast, many 20- to 40-something year old men showed up in work clothes first thing in the morning or mid-day with evidence of a hard day’s work. Once inside, they swaggered from station to station. At the last stop, as they inserted their ballot into the OVO, quite a few of them coyly looked over to me and said “Do I get a sticker??” There was noticeable disappointment in their faces as they left crestfallen.

My son and I texted from opposite sides of the county throughout the day – tired feet, a surprisingly tasty boxed lunch complete with crunchy grapes, our favorite “job” as a poll clerk, chit-chat with veteran poll workers over elections past, and regret that there were no stickers to give out. We were greeted with take-out Chinese when we got home and, despite wanting to stay up to watch the returns, we both passed out by nine.

Of course, I woke up at 3 am and began scrolling through my phone. Once I realized that it might be some time before anything was revealed, I reflected on the day and realized how proud I was that both of us were able to participate in our small way. It gave me hope that, despite all of the divisiveness in our country, Republicans and Democrats, young and old, were able to work together to ensure a smooth process at the polls.

Would I do it again? Sure! Would I donate some “I Voted” stickers to the cause next time? Absolutely!

Music: "Power to the People" by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band