Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Importance of Pollworkers


Good pollworkers are the lifeblood of every election. It's a thankless job with long hours. Getting sharp pollworkers is vital, particularly given voter intimidation, voter suppression and voter fraud efforts. The pollworkers are there to ensure we have a fair election and that every vote is counted (at least in most states) and that every voter votes only once.

We live in the suburbs west of Pittsburgh, in North Fayette Township. It's a very white, fairly Republican area. We've voted there without any problem since 2006 when we moved here. Usually, we're in and out in under 20 minutes, maybe a half hour.

We decided to vote early, got there before 7:25 and were shocked to see the many cars parked illegally and the long lines. We also parked illegally and got in line for our precinct. One line moved reasonably well, but our line moved extraordinarily slowly. One rumor that went down our line was that there was only one working voting machine for our precinct. It felt a little like voter suppression, except that we're in a Republican area in a state where Governor Tom Corbett has said he supports voter suppression in Democratic areas like Philadelphia. It seems unlikely they would try to suppress votes in a majority Republican area.

After about a half hour, someone who seemed to be working for the town said that the slowness of our line was due to "trainees." So they didn't see if their "trainees" could comprehend alphabetical order before they gave them a job as pollworker? That wasn't a good sign.

When we got inside (after a very cold hour and 15 minutes outside, we could finally get warmed up), some of the pollworkers looked pretty familiar to me. It was taking each person almost a minute to get processed to vote. When I got up to the table, it was already 8:50 (and, remember, the polls opened at 7:00) and I was voter number 102. That meant it was taking nearly a minute to process each voter before they even got to vote!

I don't like to criticize older people for being a little slow, and I appreciate the work they do. Heck, I'm middle aged and I'm slower than I'd like to be. But the woman who was in the critical position of having to look up people in a book that was in alphabetical order had trouble doing so. She couldn't remember that "M" was at the beginning of the second book. She couldn't find my husband's name right away, but once she found it, I said "and I"m after him" so she'd keep the book open to the same location.

They say with age comes wisdom, but it isn't wise to put a person on a voter processing table who slowed down hundreds of voters today. What if we lived in an area without enough voting machines, or if genuine voter suppression efforts were in play? How much longer would the line have been? How much longer would people have waited? But, most people waited.

Finally, we got to the voting machines, selected our candidates, pressed the big VOTE button and pressed CONFIRMED. We were out of there.

And the line outside was longer than ever.

So, if you're voting in North Fayette Township today, dress warmly, wear comfortable boots and maybe bring along a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee - you're probably going to need it. But vote anyway. Everyone's vote is too important to be deterred by slow processing.


Twelve hours later, I was tweeting with a neighbor who was in line at the same precinct after 8pm (PA polls close at 8). She said 150 people were in line in front of her. She didn't get to vote until 9pm. Her husband tried to vote earlier. They told him they couldn't find him on the voter lists, told him he was in the wrong place (when he wasn't) and did not offer him a provisional ballot. Residents of North Fayette Township need to talk to the County Board of Elections about this. It may not be deliberate suppression but it is gross incompetence.

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