It’s 4:05 am in the morning and I’m up avoiding the polling results. I came home and crashed under my weighted blank after working the polling location I was assigned to, and that rest was definitely needed.
I guess you could say that I got to see behind the curtain on Tuesday. I volunteered to work at a local polling location and it was an experience I’ll never forget. What started off as me wanting to take my civic duties just a bit further and work with a fellow blogger turned into so much more and I wanted to share my experience, as well as a few tips with y’all in case you decide to work the polls in the future.
Prepare for a long day. I’m already an early bird but had to get up a bit earlier than I usually do to make sure I was at my polling location in time for set up. By law, these polling locations have to be ready to go at 7 AM, and there’s so much that goes into setting them up. The eSlate machines (the ones you cast your ballot on) are super tedious to set up and take down, and they all have to be connected to the JBC (the machine where they print your access code from) and iPad in order for the eSlate machines to work. At least here in Harris County.
You get to see behind the curtain. I found out that the reason why poll workers instruct you to vote at a certain row of booths is that that particular row is the row connected to their voter check-in machines essentially. Now our polling location wasn’t a new one per se, but we were in a different location this year. Due to COVID and the school actually being canceled that day (though it seemed more like a teacher’s workday because there was definitely still staff onsite) our polling location was in the gym of an elementary school instead of their front hallway. This meant we had more space to spread out and that helped with COVID regulations! We also had restrooms and plenty of seating available for us workers and even some of the voters who came in!
Get comfortable with technology. I’m fairly comfortable with technology, but even I had to reference the election workers’ manual a few times when it came to locating a few people in our voter’s registration system. Harris County borders a few other counties, and there were literally times when we had someone come in and they paid taxes in two separate counties and weren’t registered in ours, but in the other county, their property was in. One guy actually told us that his front yard is in one county and his backyard is in another! We had to work quickly and help folks find their proper polling locations if it wasn’t one of ours in Harris County because we wanted to make sure that their votes counted. In fact, I want to take time now to remind y’all to check your voter’s registration status every now and again. Update your address if/when you move. Please! You need to vote for the representatives and propositions in your area, so the county needs to have the most accurate information for you.
Prepare to take it old school too. Our official polling phone was a flip phone. Yes. A friggin’ flip phone. It took me a second to remember how to use it, and I actually had to use it a few times for some tech issues we had, but know that you’re not supposed to be on your phone while people are voting for privacy issues (which is completely understandable), so you can’t have that out all willy nilly. In fact, the only times we really pulled our phones out to use outside of our breaks were to look up polling locations for people in different counties or to check their voter’s registration status for other counties. And don’t get me started on the number of paper forms that we had. There was an entire box of forms included in our voting location kit, and we even used a few. Outside of the required setup and takedown paperwork, we mainly used SOR (Statement of Residence) forms. There were so many people who came in and voted who lived somewhere different than the address we had on file for them. So many affidavits were done for them as well, and by the end of the night we practically had the SOR affidavit memorized.
Pack a lunch…and probably breakfast too! I packed a lunch and snack and ended up ordering UberEats for both breakfast and lunch because we had enough time to do so. I had friends who worked at other polling locations where they had a fridge and microwave on site for their meals, but that’s not the same across the board. Polling judges will typically let you know what’s available at the polling location ahead of time, and you can just plan accordingly.
Prepare to meet some pretty cool people. I went into my election day shift knowing one person there, but that’s okay because y’all know I’m comfortable talking to strangers. We had a great team, a lot of first-time volunteers, but we got things done with a smile on our face. We even had a high school volunteer whose entire job was to keep track of our line and wait times so that the Harris County website would be current. She was reporting those numbers regularly via text on her phone, and we even had the ability to do it from the official iPads!
Go with the flow. We had a couple of volunteers not show up, and I was even deputized as an alternate judge at the last minute bright and early yesterday morning! Things happen and you have to pivot on a dime, and that’s one thing we’ve gotten particularly good at as a country these past few months.
Dress for the occasion. This meant no electioneering attire. Nothing that showed support for any candidate on the ballot on any level, local, state, and federal. You could wear attire that supports bi-partisan organizations like Black Lives Matter or Don’t Tread on Me, but any attire that has a candidate’s name or slogan on there couldn’t be worn within 100 feet of the polling location. I kept things pretty direct with a “vote.” t-shirt and jeans and some comfy slip-ons for Target which came in handy because we did a lot of walking! I’ve been favoring my ‘Believe Black Women’ pin from Coloring Pins so I also wore that, my needlepoint ‘Vote’ pin, and we received a commemorative Election Official pin from the County Clerk’s office that I also put on!
You might cry. I definitely did. I held back the tears at the polling location, but when I got home I cried tears of joy for all of the first-time voters who came through our polling location. I want to say about half of our voters were first-time voters and we cheered them on because we were so proud of them! These kids are our future and I was so happy that they were coming out and making sure their voices were heard.
All in all, I had a pretty good experience working the polls and would probably do it again. Shout out to Chris Hollins and his office for all that they’ve done to keep us safe at the polls with all of the options for voting, the PPE, fighting to make sure our ballots are counted, the phenomenal social media campaign, and keeping a cool head in the media while going through everything. I’ve tweeted and verbally expressed this so many times during early voting and on election day, but his team DON’T MISS!! I encourage you to volunteer at least once at an election poll, it’s a great way to get civically involved and you get paid for it!