Rock the Helping-People-Vote
October 18, 2008 10:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be a first-time volunteer poll worker on Election Day -- any tips, advice, or relevant anecdotes for me?

(For what it's worth, I live in California, which is not a swing state, and the election may be called before our polls even close.)
posted by Asparagirl to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That's great that you will be a poll worker! Will you be a clerk or judge or inspector? I was a clerk in the 2006 general election and have been an inspector in all subsequent elections. (Also in California.) I decided to become a poll worker because I was tired of waiting in line and I wanted to help make it faster. It's turned into a love-hate relationship, but I really understand my county's electoral process now.

Wear comfortable clothing, preferably layered. You don't always have control of the polling station's heat/ventilation, so it's good to be prepared. Also pack snacks and water, possibly a book or some other craft to pass the time, and any thing else you might need through out the day. I know in my county they're projecting 90% turnout, which probably means we'll be slammed from 7am-8pm, but if there is downtime you should take advantage of it.

Look over any material they may have given you. People are always confused about surrendering vote-by-mail ballots and the provisional ballot (envelope) thing can be difficult for voters and poll workers to understand. Knowing the rules is really important, and being familiar with particular issues helps but you can't really say much about them once the polls open.

There will forever be people from other precincts who are confused, unhappy, unwilling to vote elsewhere. Just tell them the rules, and let them choose.

Another thing to look out for is potential bottlenecks in the voting process. The inspector should put people where they'll be most effective, but if you see the street-index or voter-roster person is holding things up, politely ask them to swap positions. (This is really important during rush periods.)

Just be prepared to have a really long day. I've been frustrated by poll workers who show up late and then try to beg out early. There is a lot to do before and after the polls close, and so everybody needs to be ready to go. I know my stress increased when I became the inspector, because we're responsible for getting all the ballots back to the counting place, so be mindful of that.

I'll probably think of more stuff later.
posted by kendrak at 10:44 PM on October 18, 2008

Be kind and friendly to all the people who have problems and/or stupid questions, regardless of their party affiliation. You will hear more than your fair share of "duh" moments from people who need assistance, but treat them all with dignity and respect. Best wishes to you, you have my admiration.
posted by amyms at 10:59 PM on October 18, 2008

I was a judge once. Stay positive. You will probably eventually be dealing with a lot of ticked off people, and being pleasant about it will make both their and your time better. Keep an open mind.

Be very familiar with how the provisional voting/ID requirements/etc work. If you're in an area with other precincts, sometimes people will show up to vote with you when they have to go somewhere else. Just keep an eye out for that.

Get to know the other people you'll be working with. Both to get a handle on how competent they are and to make the day go more pleasantly.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:48 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tips to any new volunteer anywhere:

- be aware of who you can go to with problems and questions
- be ready to assist people with grace, even when they get, like, totally aggro, man
- understand that there may be some people who you need to pass on to someone else because you can't help them with your more limited knowledge
- not sure if it's legal/the done thing, but I've volunteered in situations with long lines before, and just politely walking up and down a long line quietly (without yelling) reminding people what they need or should have ready has made the line go faster and has made people feel more comfortable
- be exceedingly nice to kids, especially those under, say, 12, who may not really understand why they just stood in line for an hour
- thank people for coming in
- stay until the job is done, or until there is truly nothing left for you to do: can you put away chairs, take down posters, remove cones from the parking lot?

Good on you for keeping the machine of democracy well-oiled.
posted by mdonley at 12:22 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bring a charged cell phone, water bottle, your pain med of choice, some snacks as well as a good attitude, comfortable layered clothing for your physical survival. Everyone else's comments about the mechanics and attitudes of the day are right on the mark. And good for you for signing up for an important but exhausting job!
posted by leslies at 5:47 AM on October 19, 2008

mdonley I don't think you can ask people if they have everything they need to vote in line, but you can double check if they are at the correct location to vote. If the line is long, that's a good idea to do, so that you don't have somebody wait 15 minutes only to be told they need to go 5 blocks over.

A cell phone is a good idea, but please refrain from using it in the polling place. You're supposed to be cut off from results all day, lest it be electioneering. You don't want to give the independent observers anything to complain about.
posted by kendrak at 6:12 AM on October 19, 2008

My wife has done this before. She says comfortable shoes, snacks, and a good night's sleep the night before.
posted by stevis23 at 7:48 AM on October 19, 2008

The first time I voted (in a state primary election a few weeks after turning 18), the poll worker congratulated me on my first time voting, and thanked me for coming in and taking the process seriously. I've always remembered that gentleman and appreciated him making my first voting experience so pleasant and making me feel genuinely proud of myself and the electoral process. I'm not sure if you will have time to do this, given that this is a far more major election and will likely be busier than my first time, but if you notice younger voters maybe try to be extra nice to them and thank or congratulate them for participating.
posted by twoporedomain at 10:03 AM on October 19, 2008

I'm Canadian, FWIW.

About two weeks ago, I voted in the advance polls for our election. The people working at the poll were some of the rudest and most ill-prepared people I've ever met. The registration official and the ballot holders (for lack of a better term?) weren't working together, and were even arguing over what was 'proper procedure', all quite peppered with profanity. Theses were all women over 40, so I really couldn't believe it.

None of them really had any idea of how to handle me- I had not received my voter registration card in the mail, but I am a registered voter. How uncommon could that be? I was handled like a hot potato while the flitted through their booklets trying to figure it out. All the while, they bickered across the room with one another. I felt pretty uncomfortable, even though voting is supposed to be a positive experience!

After some 15 minutes, I was finally given my ballot. Sweet relief.

So, please study procedure before you arrive on site, and for F's sake, be polite to your fellow volunteers and voters.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:09 PM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your advice! I am currently signed up to be a clerk at a polling place a few minutes from my house, but there is a good chance I may get bumped up to inspector (*gulp!*) in the next few days -- they were looking for an emergency fill-in for one inspector on Friday and they may need another one soon. I'm going to be getting both "regular" poll worker training and inspector training this week to make sure I'm up to speed. There's also a chance that the inspector opening could end up being in a nearby area that is majority Spanish-speaking (y no hablo espaƱol!), so things may get interesting...

Thanks again, I very much appreciated these comments, and I'll try to remember to update this thread with a report after the election!
posted by Asparagirl at 10:58 AM on October 20, 2008

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