Yesterday, I posted a conversation I had as an election judge with a voter. I live in Minnesota, and as far as American elections go, we are pretty good at this whole election thing. We have a high voter turn-out (again, for America), and we allow same-day registration. Not to mention that in 2012, the voters rejected a republican-led ballot measure that would have instituted voter ID laws.
(Aside: People may not be aware, but not only does Minnesota have a Voter’s Bill of Rights, but there are many statutes that cover elections, including not sharing or showing your completed ballot and not campaigning in or around polling places.)
In 2012, I was a precinct judge who was assigned to be the “greeter.” Ramsey County initiated this as triage in high turn-out elections to make sure people walking in the door to the polling place are in the right place and are pre-registered. I could look up the voter’s address and direct them to the proper place if necessary as well as check and make sure people have all the documentation they need to register in our precinct. I did this from open to close, which is about 13 hours.
I enjoyed this despite my aversion to speaking with strange humans. This is an instance when I am involved in community and democracy, and helping people to cast their vote is a great feeling.
It also means people say a lot of crap to me. Don’t get me wrong, they do it in the polling place as well, but I think that the hustle and bustle of the lobby and the less formal appearance of a greeter judge standing there with a clipboard makes people feel more relaxed and willing to share their off-hand comments. As election judges, we are only allowed to advise people on issues of procedure. We can’t tell people anything about the candidates or issues on the ballot.
At the pre-registered voter check-in table, where people identify themselves, and we find them in the roster and have them sign, I have had people stick their driver’s license right in my face and stand there stony-faced and silent, refusing to state their name and address to me. I have also had them take out their driver’s license and say, “Here’s my picture ID,” to which I replied, “I see that.” One woman muttered, “This is what’s wrong with this country,” when I said we did not need to see her ID. All these people were white, and all these people were pre-registered, which means they proved their identity and residence at the time of registration.
It will also never cease to amaze me how many people walk into the polling place with no idea who the people on the ballot are. In a presidential election year, they generally know about the main candidates for that esteemed office, but the idea of there being other races on the ballot let alone referenda issues is something that never occurs to many people. I have to keep my mouth shut when they say things like “No one cares about kids anymore,” or “Public radio is liberal,” or “No kids are ready for school,” or “We could lose out economically if our [fill in name of professional sports team] left,” or “No one can think for themselves.” There are also comments such as this:
-“I’m sick and tired of hiring attorneys for these positions.”
-“There should have been more PR.”
-“Don’t you think that a union endorsement could be bad, considering what happened in Wisconsin? Maybe people could learn to think for themselves.” (That last bit is a popular statement.)
A kid walked straight up to me in the lobby and said, “Hi! Who did you vote for? I voted for Mitt Romney.” Another voter stated: “It will be interesting to see who’s president. I don’t really care. God puts them in anyways. That’s what the Bible says, and I believe it.” There are the occasionally loudly angry people, like the most likely intoxicated man who left shouting and swearing because he didn’t have proper ID to register, and the man who came in shouting with his un-voted absentee ballot.
I liked being a precinct greeter judge. Before I knew it, 12 hours had flown by, and there were only three hours left until I could go to the pub. Since 2012, I have been mostly an Assistant Head Judge, which means I am the registration judge, which is great because it’s fun to get people registered, especially first-time voters. But there certainly was something exciting about being up front, working the line, sending people to the right precinct, getting them to the registration table, seeing my neighbors, chatting, high-fiving, fist-bumping, encouraging voters without the proper documentation not to give up, and asking people to remove campaign materials from view.
I am awaiting my assignment for the Primary (August 9, 2016) and the General (November 8, 2016). I expect to be very, very busy, Minnesota. I know it’s only April, but make sure you are registered, and if you aren’t, register. Get your absentee ballot if you know you will be out of town or otherwise unable to get to your polling place on Election Day. I expect you to look up your ballot* and polling place beforehand and know what is happening down ballot. Make your decisions beforehand, and be ready to vote before you walk in the door. Election Judges will be there to help you with procedure and any questions you have about registering, marking your ballot, and other issues not related to politics.
*Using Safari, this link appears to be unpopulated, probably because sample ballots are not available.