Column: Election Day 2013

Column: Election Day 2013

Some friends who work on election issues for the Democratic Party have pestered me to stand up and serve as an election officer. The last couple of elections Republican election officers substantially outnumbered Democrats working the polls—not a healthy situation. So, I bit the bullet and signed up. When I called the Fairfax County Electoral Board volunteer, the lady on the phone asked where I preferred to work. I had decided to roll the dice and responded, "some place not more than 10 miles away from Lake Anne, if possible." I had my fingers crossed that it would not be some tea party hotbed. "How about Seneca Precinct in Great Falls, she said." Sure, why not! She told me I’d have to come for a half-day training class at the Fairfax County Government Center (the infamous "Taj Mahal") and fill out paperwork in order to get my $175 pay. $175! I thought you got like $25 for working at the polls. Clearly a step up from our typical volunteer gigs in Reston.

A couple of weeks before the election, I appeared at Taj Mahal, Room 315-C for training. To begin, we were reminded of many dos and don’ts of poll work: do come to the polling place at O dark thirty (5 a.m.); don’t leave the place until well after the polls close (maybe 9 or 10 p.m.); do bring food, medications, whatever one needs to survive a long day; don’t discuss anything remotely partisan political with anyone; don’t wear anything remotely political; and, do treat voters with courtesy and respect no matter how they behave! The hardest part of the training was familiarizing myself with the high tech equipment. No hanging chads here! First, the old poll books with the alphabetical listings for checking in voters are no more. Poll workers now use Electronic Poll Books—laptop computers armed with Fairfax County voter records software. A few minutes of practice, sharing a computer with another struggling volunteer, was not nearly enough to get me up to speed. Then there was the Touch Screen Voting Machine which I have gotten used to voting with. Learning how to set up, take apart for use out at curbside for those with mobility impairments was much harder. Last was the Optical Scan Voting Machine. It is the latest—all electronic record keeping and it keeps every voter’s paper ballot in its large belly! Using it was not a problem, but setting it up, instructing voters in its use and taking it apart to report and record results, etc. were difficult for the computer-challenged such as myself. I worried about being up to the task on election day. Election day arrived early. I arrived at 4:45 a.m. at Forestville Elementary School (Seneca Precinct) in Great Falls. Luckily, it was so early that Great Falls security wasn’t awake and the Independent Progressive slipped right through to the polling place in Republican territory. I wouldn’t leave it for over 16 hours!

My worrying about not being competent to operate, and explain to others how to operate equipment, was overblown. I was one of 10 people, half Republicans and half Democrats, serving as election officers. Two old pros served as Chief and Deputy Chief Election Officer and others had worked there many times. They took me in like a member of the team, and we worked well together throughout the long day and the lengthy, tedious counting and close-up procedures. And, sonuvagun, I got used to working the electronic poll book and became nearly expert with the Optical Scan machine. I actually found myself enjoying the experience, interacting with 1,700 people I had never met who came to do their civic duty, most of them happily. And most of them were likely Republican, but folks who would vote this day for the top two Democrats on the ballot I have checked this block in my life experiences book. I don’t know that I’ll do it again because it was such a long day. But, who knows? It was interesting.