Aunt Virginia Needs You (As An Election Officer)

The EPB! (Electronic Poll Book)

One of the sheets of paper taped on the wall in Richmond’s Maple Avenue Fire Station Tuesday was a recruiting poster seeking additional qualified people to become “one of the elite!”  Not Marines, not Green Berets or fire fighters – election officers.  Uncle Sam and Aunt Virginia need you for this job, too.

The various disputes in House of Delegates races last fall reminded me that I had always wanted to try working inside the polls.  For many years I was doing precinct work on the outside, taking care of the GOP signs and giving voters a handout or final harangue, and sometimes I watched the count process as a party observer.  That’s not happening in the Age of Trump so I wanted another way to get involved.

This year brought some certainty that I could keep the days of the primary and general elections free, so Tuesday at five a.m. I stumbled into the firehouse for my rookie effort.  Given it was an abysmal-turnout primary (GOP ballot only in Richmond) and the voters would be few and far between, it was a perfect practice run.  A few general observations:

First, I really would encourage you to try this assuming you are up to a 15-16 hour day with a good bit of time on your feet.  It is vital that people who respect the election process are conducting it, because it is still very hands-on and open to error.

Second, somebody needs to put in a bill that gives local electoral boards full powers of eminent domain for election days.  Finding the right locations with sufficient parking is also important as long as we continue one-day, in-person voting.   Yours truly failed in his morning mission of protecting a few parking spaces in the nearby public lot as reserved for voters, and suddenly there was only one space open.  I chased many non-voters out of it.  I’m semi-serious that a short term grant of eminent domain might help secure locations and parking.

Third, changing precinct lines should be hard to do and happen very seldom.  It breeds great confusion, and we had scores of voters complaining “but I’ve always voted here!” and “I never saw any notice!” when they were turned away.  The new electronic poll books automatically generate actual driving directions to the correct polling place, printed on a slip to hand to the unhappy voter.  That helps.

Fourth, it’s amazing how many voters remain unaware of which candidates match their districts.  That part of Richmond used to be in the Seventh Congressional District, Dave Brat’s district, and a few years ago was moved by court order to the Fourth District, now represented by Donald McEachin.  We had another subset of voters, larger than the group coming to the wrong poll, who wanted to vote in the Seventh District Democratic primary.  Some got all the way checked in before realizing they didn’t want to vote in the GOP primary.

This problem is on the voters, and to some extent on the parties who could consider at least one pre-election mailing to each registered household with that basic information.  We started stressing to people at the door that our precinct had no Democratic primary.  It will happen again in November because of the spirited race coming in that neighboring district.

Electronic poll books, paper ballots that are automatically assessed and counted by the voting machine, a new machine for the visually impaired which we didn’t need – the technology is great, but at the end of the day civility and humor and patience keep the flow moving and human eyes need to confirm that the person standing there is indeed who they say they are, and that the numbers on the poll books, on the paper ballot tally, and on the voting machine all balance.  We check every 15 minutes.

It was a breeze Tuesday.  When five or six times that many voters come in November, it will be more problematic.  Think about joining us.

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9 responses to “Aunt Virginia Needs You (As An Election Officer)”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I did it for a few years but then stopped last year but Steve has well covered the ins and outs. The long hours are tough.. I can do the early but hanging around til 8 or 9 to do the reconciliation and taking down and putting away the “stuff” is tougher for me but what tipped the scales is that they often have more volunteers than they have work for and organizing the work itself is catch-as-catch can though once we got rolling it did work.

    I was just amazed there were not more screw-ups given the paltry amount of training provided; they totally rely on the “Chief” and assistant to keep things straight and I do expect Steve to go for that job soon if not already!

    The precinct boundaries, as Steve mentioned is a big hairy CF that CAN cause screw-ups. Consider that There are Federal Congressional districts, then Va HD districts, then Va Senate districts then local BOS districts and every time a census or other court-ordered changes are made …. it can affect ballots – on a per precinct basis.

    In terms of venues – they are supposed to use fire stations, community centers, schools, etc. AND have parking. If they don’t someone is not doing their job!

    Finally – yes… paltry turnouts and voter ignorance of candidates is appalling. I advocate that a law be passed similar to how juries are called. You have to be there AND there WILL be a short quiz to “educate” BEFORE you vote … That oughta back up the parking and produce long lines on election day for sure!

    But congrats to Steve for doing his duty, and for his observations and reporting here and recruiting! Thank you!

  2. I’ve always admired the people who volunteered their time to help make the democratic process work. Good for you, Steve.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Oh, the pay is lavish – $130 for the 15 hour day and $15 for each of the training classes leading up to it. I’m not sure if that is the same in every locality.

  3. I’m an officer of the election. You’ve summed it up pretty well. That being said, they really really need to break the day up. Those who can stay all day, maybe the chief and assistant, but it would be better to split the day up. There is really no excuse for not recognizing this.

    1. Give that the State’s largest pool of potential volunteers is elderly retirees, it seems like a no-brainer to allow sign-ups for shifts, not entire days — at least for those not in charge. I’ve heard this complaint before, many times, from a cousin who regularly works elections in the Farmville area. Gee, aren’t there other states that pose examples of how the job could be done in shifts without a downside?

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I assume there is something in state law that requires every election officer to be there all day long, and sign off on the results at the end, but it probably doesn’t make sense anymore. A couple more breaks at least would have been welcome (we apparently had two no-shows), and at the end of the day I was struggling to focus during the pack-up process.

  5. Rosanna Bencoach Avatar
    Rosanna Bencoach

    Steve, Thank you for your service! Good points, too. As for your question, the law (link below) says that chief and assistant chief officers must serve the entire day, but other officers may be assigned to “part” of the day. When they sign in and out on the Statement of Results they include their In/Out times and are attesting to the part of the day that they witnessed. My predecessor in Charlotteville pioneered “split shifts” and got the law changed to allow it. Not all localities use the option, as it it complicates scheduling and requires recruiting/training more officers. But, if you can’t find enough who are willing and able to work the full day, or still fresh enough to do what is required at the end of the day, it’s worth considering. We are also using it to put a few more officers on AM shifts in precincts that normally see most of their voters in the morning, and only have a small bump in the evening.

  6. Rosanna Bencoach Avatar
    Rosanna Bencoach

    I should have indicated my position (though Steve knows). General Registrar and Director of Elections, City of Charlottesville

  7. […] promoted that way.  Do not assume your locality has enough qualified people. I repeat my earlier invitation – join the […]

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