My Experience as a Precinct Election Official on Election Day 2020

PEO

It’s been a long day. I worked for 14 hours (with a one-hour lunch break) as a Precinct Election Official (PEO) for Kent’s Precinct 4A. It was an incredible learning experience for me, as a first-time poll-worker. I don’t want to universalize my experiences too much, but it seems to me that our local democratic processes should give us hope.

There was surprisingly little tension throughout the day. There were no signs of people trying to rig the system or rob anyone else of their right to vote. The actual voting process went smoothly, with only minor technological glitches along the way. Our precinct processed a lot of votes — more for this election than the last three elections combined, according to the other PEOs working with me — but the lines never grew longer than 20-25 minutes, even at the busiest times of the day. All sorts of different people got the chance to vote in all sorts of different ways. And they all respected each other, at least externally, following social conventions and pandemic precautions along the way.

Set-Up

I pedaled up to the voting location — Kent State University’s Beverly Warren Student Recreation and Wellness Center — at 5:40 AM. Things were already well underway. The voting booths were already set up. The equipment was ready to be activated. All eight of us Precinct Election Officials — four “D”s (people who voted in the most recent Democratic Party Primary Election) and four “R”s (people who voted in the most recent Republican Party Primary Election) swore our oaths of office at 5:45 AM.

We were busy from 5:45 to 6:35 AM, getting everything started. I took the job of posting signage to help people find their way to the polls and to remind them of some of the basic ground rules. No smoking. No campaign paraphernalia within 100 feet of the polling location. A map showing all the various precincts in the area. All of the PEOs worked together to get things ready, and by 6:30 AM we were ready for our first voter.

Greeter

My first job in the rotation of PEOs was to serve as a Greeter, from 6:35 to 8:25 AM. For this rotation, I was stationed by the front door of the Rec Center. As each person who came in the doors, I asked the same question: “Are you here to vote or to work out?”

If the answer was “Work out,” I’d say, “Ah, go right ahead then. Have a good workout!”

If the answer was “Vote,” I’d say, “All right! The voting location is just downstairs [while pointing over the railing to where the basketball courts were visible]. You can take the stairs or the elevator [while pointing to the stairs and elevator]. When you get downstairs, just follow the signs and arrows to the green lines that keep you spaced from other voters until you get to the front of the line. And if you could have your ID ready when you get to the front of the line, that will be helpful.”

It was repetitive job. I was working alone, far from all the other PEOs. And there were significant stretches when I didn’t have anything to do. So it wasn’t my favorite spot in the rotation. But during my time as a greeter, a student-reporter interviewed me for her feature story on Kent Wired — and it was fun to have people see my cameo as “Rookie poll worker at the Rec” and text me about it later in the day.

Poll Pad Worker

Around 8:30 AM, I rotated to the Poll Pad stations where voters checked in. Most of the rest of my day was spent there, at the front of the line where voters waited to receive their ballot. Most of the work at this station involved verifying addresses and correcting addresses. Perhaps it sounds simple — but there’s a surprising degree of complexity, particularly in a precinct with perhaps 85% of the voting public being college students who tend to move once or twice a year. Maybe it sounds unimportant — but it’s all designed to make sure that there’s no fraud, with residency requirements that ensure that an individual can only vote one time, in one precinct. I know it sounds tedious — but that’s the careful work of Democracy!

My fellow PEOs were very helpful in passing along their experience and catching my rookie mistakes. In one instance, a Kent State student lived in a large apartment building just off-campus, and it turned out he had the same first name and same last name as another person who was registered in the same apartment building! The only way to differentiate them was by middle name, the spelling of the last name, and the date of birth. So after I made a mistake (fortunately caught by redundancy in our system), I learned to look more closely at all the details for verifying voters’ identities from that point forward.

Problem Solving

My favorite part of working as a Precinct Election Official was helping young people who were voting for the first time. Many of them needed to print out a record of their accommodations with Kent State University’s Residence Services, to verify their eligibility to vote. But the University’s Housing website was glitching at various points throughout the day. So we had to do a lot of problem solving. In some cases, we had to brainstorm other options for how they could verify their identity. And college students truly have it tougher than most people who live at the same address for years (or even decades) at a time!

Fortunately, with patience and encouragement, we were able to guide almost everyone through the process so that their vote could be counted. I’m really proud of all the students who persevered (in at least one case for more than an hour, with multiple University employees and police officers helping out) and exercised their right to vote.

Provisional Ballots

I had one stint in the afternoon, working at the station processing provisional ballots and scanning regular ballots into the system for counting at the Board of Elections. The provisional balloting system was a more tedious process of people filling in addresses and forms of identification — but this part of the PEO rotation was special because it’s where I got to hand out the coveted “I [Ohio / Heart] Voting” stickers.

After less than an hour, however, I rotated back to the Poll Pad stations (which require four out of the eight PEOs). And that’s where I finished the rest of my shift as a Precinct Election Official.

Shutting Down

The last hour and a half of voting was our slowest and quietest. We didn’t have to turn anyone away for showing up too late. No one had to stress about long lines late into the night. We simply waited for our Poll Pads to show the time as 7:30 PM, and then we started shutting everything down. The Voting Location Managers checked and cross-checked the ballot numbers. There were half a dozen different checklists used to follow shut-down procedures and apply a variety of plastic locks with serial numbers that ensured that the Board of Elections would receive all the materials without tampering. It took a little more than an hour to close our precinct. And then I biked home to watch the early election returns, finishing the day by about 8:45 PM.

My experience as a Precinct Election Official greatly increased my confidence in our Election Day systems. A lot of people are working really hard (for minimal pay) to keep things running with efficiency and integrity. I’m concerned about the current President’s character. I’m concerned about many of the current President’s policies. But I’m especially concerned about the current President’s rhetoric trying to cast doubt on our Election Day systems. It has the potential to undermine far more than the current election. I hope that he backs away his claims of fraud and foul play, but even if he doesn’t I personally will not be rattled.

I did my work. My bipartisan teammates did their work. We survived Election Day. Now: the time has come for the people’s votes to be counted.

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