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How to make poll workers’ lives better

By From page A2 | June 09, 2014

There was a special election in the mid-1990s – and those typically don’t bring out that many voters, especially when it is pouring rain. Still, I did my civic duty and went to my polling location. When I walked in, a woman working there gave me no greeting, save asking me for the necessary identifying information.

Now, I didn’t expect a handshake or hug, but a “hello” would’ve been nice. After voting, I told the woman to “Have a good day!” There are many ways to respond to that and a bland “yeah” is usually not the one most people pick, but that’s what she went with.

I called the Solano County Registrar of Voters and complained about her rudeness. I also decided to become a poll worker to show I could do it better than that.

The first place I worked was at Trinity Lutheran Church on Dover Avenue. I was the roster clerk and greeted voters with a smile. Fast forward to last Tuesday’s primary election and I was back at the location where I started.

Since 2010, I have worked as an inspector, which just means that you are the one in charge to make sure it goes smoothly.

As expected, voter turnout was not that high. The 112 regular ballots, plus 19 provisional ballots, cast at our polling place represented a mere one-tenth of the more than 1,000 voters I helped to process at a different polling place in the 2012 presidential election.

I thought I had experienced every voting scenario working the past two incredibly busy presidential contests, but I was wrong. On Tuesday, we had not one, but two voters put their completed ballots into the AutoMark machine that is used to mark ballots for voters with disabilities instead of the M100 ballot scanner (that I playfully nickname “R2D2” or “The Shredder”). Thankfully, they were easily ejected and put in the correct machine.

I had my first curbside voter – someone who couldn’t come into the polling place, but with her husband’s help, was able to participate in the democratic process.

I have to give the Solano County Registrar of Voters props for listening to poll workers and responding. They add little things that can make a big difference. For instance, including adhesive clips for the rosters that hang outside polling places and 100 feet of string to measure exactly how far to put signs warning that electioneering is not allowed from the door of the voting facility.

Instead of using the poll worker suggestion sheet, I usually just offer mine here:

1. The back of the manual that inspectors use should have an alphabetized index of different scenarios we are likely to encounter and include corresponding page numbers. The table of contents in the front is good, but the good is sometimes the enemy of the best.

2. Having a large picture on the front of the sample ballot showing the polling place would be better than mere words because my experience is that, unfortunately, few read the words. Actually, a picture of anything on the cover – up to and including a disturbing non-sequitur shot of Miley Cyrus twerking – would draw attention to words telling voters where to vote.

That is the No. 1 complaint that voters have – that their polling place changed. I always tell people that it is subject to change because churches and other organizations are not required to let anyone use their facilities for voting and sometimes they are just unavailable.

3. The cellphones that inspectors use are vintage flip phones. While it was fun for about two minutes to pretend I was Captain Kirk using a communicator asking Scotty to beam me up, I had to actually Google the instruction manual to do basic things on that Jurassic device. Can those be upgraded?

The overwhelming majority of voters are nice and friendly, which makes it a pleasure. When they are not, I have a secret weapon far and beyond being polite and professional. I always bring some candy when I am an inspector to offer voters as they exit. Not only does it often help to disarm frustration and anger, but it also reflects how sweet it is to live in a democracy.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade

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