A Day in the Life of a Poll Worker
5:45 a.m. – I pick up a box of coffee for myself and my fellow poll workers. I already have some fruit and other snacks to share. It’s going to be a 15- or 16-hour workday, so we’ll need all the help we can get. Despite the 5 a.m. wake-up call and the long hours, I avoid comparing myself to Ivan Denisovich. I volunteered for this, after all, and I always enjoy it. I have the blank ballots, scanner, and some other supplies in my car, and the rest of the equipment, like the voting booths, are waiting for us at the polling place.
7:00 a.m. – The polls open. We have two precincts in this location — a community center just south of Sacramento’s midtown — and 30 or 40 people are lined up when I open the door, waiting to vote. That’s a lot of eager voters! We had one small glitch during the setup: the ballot-marking machine federal law requires us to have available isn’t working properly, so I called the registrar’s office and they’re sending a repair team. In the meantime, the other precinct’s machine works, so we’ll share. Frankly, if we have to have a glitch, this is a good one to have.
11:00 a.m. – It’s been a busy morning. The flood of early voters started to ease up around 9:30, though we still have a steady stream of folks coming in. Many of our precinct’s voters get their ballots by mail. Of the ones that don’t, already about a third have come in to vote. Impressive! We’re approaching the number of voters we got here for the June primary, and they just keep coming. A repair team fixed our ballot-marking machine, but it broke again when we tested it, so the repair team is on their way back.
1 p.m. – We’re lucky poll workers. Our colleague’s wife brought us lasagna for lunch (thanks Sang!). She also brought their almost-one-year old son to visit with us while she voted. A moment ago, our poll was empty of voters for the first time today. It’ll probably be slow for a couple hours, then pick up again mid-afternoon. The repair team decided it would be easier to just replace our broken machine, and they brought the new one by a little while ago.
7:30 p.m. – We’ve had a steady stream of voters throughout the afternoon and evening, but now our poll is empty again. The turnout numbers look great: well over 80 percent of our in-person voters have shown up to vote, and about 40 others have filled out provisional ballots, not to mention all the mail ballots folks have dropped off. Of course, one of the few drawbacks of working at the polls is that we can’t discuss anything political, so even though we know that some east coast states are announcing results of national races, we’ll keep our thoughts under wraps until later. We’re starting to prepare ourselves for closing the poll, which will be a flurry of activity that will take all our attention. All the repairing and replacing of our ballot-marking machine turned out to have been an academic exercise, since no one has used it all day. It looks lonely over there in the corner.
10 p.m. – What a day. I just got home after driving the ballots and voting equipment over to the registrar’s office with another poll worker. After the polls closed at 8 p.m., we rushed around cleaning up after ourselves, sorting ballot cards into piles, and counting how many were voted and leftover to make sure that the ballot box was neither stuffed nor emptied when we weren’t looking. California election law has detailed procedures to ensure ballot security and a verifiable chain of custody, so we each had to sign our names a half dozen times or so. I heard about the presidential race on the radio as I drove home, but now I finally have a chance to find out what’s happening with the state ballot measures and the Legislature. I push off my shoes and open my laptop…