The PJ Tatler

5 Secrets All Poll Workers Know

JFK Quote

1. Voters Are Less Informed Than Any of Us Ever Imagined

In Ohio primary elections, poll workers are required to ask voters which party’s ballot they would like to vote. Many voters have no idea why we are asking (and some are angry that we ask such a personal question). A surprising number of people showing up to vote don’t know whether they want to vote for Republicans or Democrats and don’t know what difference it makes. Some voters proudly announce that they have no idea whom to vote for; they’re just showing up to do their civic duty (a duty which doesn’t seem to include being an informed voter). Some have to lean over and ask their spouses which candidates they should vote for while others uncritically vote for anyone with a “D” or an “R” after their name (we know this because they brag about it).

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2. Voters Now Hate Both Parties

When asked which party’s ballot they would like, a surprising number of voters respond with some variation of, “I hate both parties” or “They’re all a bunch of liars.” I lost count of the number of times voters told us (in one form or another) that they had lost confidence in the two party system. I’ve served as a poll worker in several Ohio primaries prior to this one and I’ve never seen anything like the dissatisfaction I witnessed on Tuesday. I sense that future candidates who can tap into this antipathy toward their own profession and find ways to address the frustrations of voters will have the opportunity to win some new converts in upcoming elections.

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3. Elections Are More Complicated Than You Know

As a poll worker, if you feel like you’ve done everything correctly on Election Day, you’re probably just not all that familiar with the rules. In addition to the mandatory training required of all election officials, I spend several hours reviewing the Ohio Revised Code and advisories from the Secretary of State’s office in order to familiarize myself with the current (and constantly changing) election laws and procedures. Like most laws, they’re excruciatingly detailed and ridiculously complicated and even poll workers with dozens of years of experience don’t have a thorough understanding of all of them. And no matter how much time I spend preparing for Election Day, I always leave the polling place with a vague feeling that I probably messed something up. Did I process a provisional ballot incorrectly? Allow someone to vote who shouldn’t have? Pack the supplies from the blue vinyl bag into the red vinyl bag by mistake at the end of the day? And did I remember to place a plastic lock on the red transfer case? I leave the precinct wondering. Every time.


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4. Long Hours. Not Much Pay

As the “Voting Location Manager” for my precinct, I am required to attend a training class at the county board of elections (40 minutes from home) for which I am paid a whopping $5. The day before the election I make another trip to the BOE to pick up the voting machines and other election supplies. On Election Day we arrive at the precinct at 5:45 a.m. and don’t finish up until nearly 8:30 p.m. That’s a very long day with only a few quick bathroom breaks (and grabbing lunch between voters). It’s especially difficult for some of the senior citizens who work at the polls. All for a little over $100. Nevertheless, most of the poll workers I’ve known have served cheerfully and professionally, despite the long hours and sometimes stressful environment, considering the work an act of community service.

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5. Families That Vote Together, Vote Alike

Often we see families coming in to vote with their newly minted 18-year-olds. It’s always delightful to see a proud parent teaching the new voter in the family how to sign in and how to operate the voting machines. What we also see is that families tend to pass their voting habits on to their kids. Parents who vote religiously produce children who do the same. They also almost always pass their party affiliation down to their children. It’s not uncommon to see three generations in a family all voting Republican (or Democrat). Occasionally we will see split party affiliations in families, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.