One Tuesday Morning

courtesy of google images
Chad W. Lutz
“Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing. What is necessary now is one thing and one thing only that democracy become again democracy in action, not democracy accomplished and piled up in goods and gold.” - Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress (May 7, 1892 – April 20, 1982)

It was cold but clear as I waited for my father to pull out of the garage. We were working the polls together as election officials. For months the TV and radio had been blabbing on and on and on about the day, November 6, 2012, and suddenly it was here. An odd hobby and shared interest between father and son I’ll admit, but we were both excited (I was at any rate) to be working the 2012 Presidential Election, our first Presidential Elections, and one so important to the future of the country.

Our assigned polling place sat in the nearby Village of Silver Lake at the local community church. I find it ironic that due process of governmental election often takes place inside of churches, especially when separation of Church and State remains a hot-button issue. Alanis Morrisette aside, we greeted our fellow poll workers with excited anticipation and began prepping the ballots and the M100 machine (the thing you fed your ballot into) and took the oaths of office.

I didn’t know what to expect with political analysts estimating horrendous lines due to a decrease in the number of polling places and increased interest in the races. When the doors opened at 6:30am, I had the familiar feeling of standing behind the starting blocks at a swim meet right after the official blows the whistle for the swimmers to step up. A surge of adrenaline destroyed my cerebral cortex; this is it.

No sooner had we opened the doors than 30 people poured into the cafeteria-turned-center for democracy. Neighbors and community members looked around at each as if they expected to be the only people to arrive that early to vote. The joke was on them, and most had a good laugh over it. It was a good test for us; good to get a rush out of the way early when you have the aid of millions of endorphins swirling through your veins enabling work produced at an effort half your age. This really benefits the elderly crowd, which makes up the majority of poll workers, I’m afraid to say. At 26, I’m the extreme minority. The average age of a poll worker in Summit County, Ohio, probably rests somewhere around 65, and that is no hyperbole.

By 8:00am, our voter count was already up to 54 voters. Out of a total 533 voters in the precinct, 54 by 8 o’ clock is outstanding. Before we opened the polls, one of the processes election officials must go through is to reconcile the list of absentee voters between two different lists. One list shows those not entered into the registration book as absentee, which officials must mark off, one by one, to ensure those people don’t come through and vote twice. The other is of the people entered into the registration book prior to Election Day. While it’s not mandatory poll workers reconcile these lists prior to the polls opening, I’d highly recommend it to anyone because by the end of the day you just want the Hell out of there.

Around 8:45am, the count was already up to 84. People filed in consistently but not overwhelmingly as was the case at 6:30am. With the exception of five minutes here and five minutes there, I was on my feet and working the entire time. My charge was Ballot Return Judge. In other words, I was the guy whose job it was to explain to people how to feed ballots into the M 100, the Jurassic pile of shit that reads the votes and tallies voters. Known for its triple war cry when overfed, the M100, although fairly simple to use, still receives approach like a dangerous and wild animal. It's hard to help people who can't seem to figure out how to use the machine without looking at their ballot. It's one of the most awkward positions a poll worker can assume, like election official Twister. You tell them, "Each page goes in individually," and people still try to feed both in at the same time.

And then you have instances like what happened around 9:00am. Our Ballot Judge, the person who physically hands ballots to each voter gave some woman one and a half ballots, and she voted on all three pages. We caught the mistake before she finished voting and set the page aside, but the Ballot Judge didn't realize she had already marked the ballot and reissued the page, along with its counterpart, to the next voter. Two minutes later, a woman said something you definitely should not hear for any reason on voting day.

"Someone has already voted on my ballot."

My mind froze as the woman stood there waiting for my response. I must've looked like a snake slithering through any slimy response I could put together. But I had nothing to offer the woman. We eventually realized half her ballot was from the previous voter who had already begun marking up the pages (and obviously didn't realize she was voting for the same thing twice). It wasn't any real crisis; all we would have had to do was void the ballot and issue her a new one, but, as luck would have it, the way the woman before her voted was the way she wanted to vote, as well. Miracles are made in such ways.

As the day wore on, the lack of young voters seriously perplexed me. I kept in mind that I was assigned to a predominantly elderly precinct, and that a sizable number of people decided to vote absentee this year, but it was still a little disheartening to sit and watch as a majority of voter turnout represent the 40 and older crowd, however; it is fair to note people 55 and over make up roughly 25% of the United States population.

Throughout the day I kept looking outside at the bright and brilliant sun. It looked absolutely gorgeous against the fall complexion of the landscape through the windows. The remaining, although few and sparing, reds and yellows of the leaves stood out like wildfires against the greys and browns of the trees. The outside world appeared warm and inviting; a stark contrast from the grey skies, wind and rain experienced the better part of two weeks prior. People seemed in bright spirits because of it, too. Cheerful attitudes are a welcome companion on such a serious and often aggravating day. Other than an incident involving a voter from the other precinct operating in our building trying to feed her ballot into our machine things went pretty smoothly. We did have to instruct an elderly couple to remove political paraphernalia (stickers) from their shirts. It's illegal to do any sort of electioneering, direct or indirect, within a 100ft. of polling places in Summit County. They argued with us, even though we told them Ohio Law forbids it. Eventually they hid the stickers under their jackets.

With 4 more hours to go, more and more young people had begun trickling in, but by 5:30pm our polling place was basically a cemetery. The sun had set, but not on the election, and my own anxieties about the candidates and issues began to increase. As an election official, you are forbidden to talk politics while on the job. There were no TVs or radios to check results. The projections leading up to the election had both candidates neck-and-neck. A part of me began to wonder if we'd have another "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment in history before morning. That same part of me almost wanted that to happen.

But, it didn't, and by midnight Barack Obama was reported to have won the election and Mitt Romney soon after conceded defeat. Where was I? In bed asleep; working the polls drains the life out of you. From about 5:00am until 8:00pm at night you're on your feet, engaging voters, and constantly making sure everything is running as smoothly as possible. It's an odd feeling to open the ballot boxes at the end of the night and know you hold the country's fate in your hand, and then you begin counting. Reconciliation is one of the most stressful parts of the night; everything has to add up and correspond with several different lists. There is a serious sense of pride when everything does match up, though, and you post the final results ticker on the door and walk out of your polling place with a bag of roughly 400 - 500 peers' personal beliefs, as a protector, slung from your soldier like a political cowboy. I feel like it's probably akin to the feeling police might get when they catch the bad guy or when a lawyer puts a notorious criminal behind bars; due process served.

All in all I would have to say my first Presidential Election went a little quieter than I had expected. It's not that I really wanted to have to deal with serious scandals, massive lines, or irreconcilable data, but the way I envisioned the day, I guess, sat a little more grandiose in my mind. But, then again, I've always had a pretty distorted sense of ease (says the marathon runner).

Anyone interested in becoming a poll worker can find more information at