I spent Election Day in a small church in Michigan, as a Democratic Party Election Poll Watcher.
I signed up for, and trained for, this event months ago. I did this because I felt compelled to keep my head down and continue to work hard on Election Day and knew that if I did not, I would be wringing my hands and be distracted from my paying job anyway. Here are some notes from my day, which proved to be overwhelmingly positive and inspirational, with some (predictable) spikes of alarm.
At 6 a.m., I reported to the small, lakeside church to which I was assigned. There was already a line of voters waiting, and the polls wouldn’t open for another hour. When the first voter was let in, he thanked the election workers, and noted that he and the veteran in the wheelchair behind him both teared up when they heard and saw the election crew take the oath and say the pledge of allegiance before they got to work. That was a good start to the day.
Because I am not registered to vote in Michigan, my role as a poll watcher was to know the rules for voting, observe the process, report and question irregularities to the workers, and if not resolved, also report to the Democratic Party. There was also an election challenger present, who had more extensive responsibilities, such as the right to challenge a person’s eligibility to vote and challenge the actions of election inspectors.
I have never seen a more dedicated, professional, and gracious team than I observed in that church on Election Day. They worked like clockwork, processing voters and handling 80 voters per hour with one in-take computer. In the last election, this voting place saw only 221 voters. This year, they processed more than that in the first three hours.
Here are some stats:
10 first-time voters, who were celebrated
11 voters who had received absentee ballots, but decided to instead vote in person (they can do that — the workers had to call to have their absentee ballots voided, to avoid a potential double vote)
2 typos in voting rolls corrected (took a call to the clerk; they made it look easy)
1 voter who came to the wrong precinct was directed to his correct voting place. I hope he made it!
1 first-time voter returned to the polls with his mom after he thought he had made a mistake; He had voted a “straight-ticket,” but then selected a few candidates who were not on that party’s ticket. Michigan is one of the few states that allows voters to vote “straight ticket,” meaning they may fill one oval next to a party name to cast a vote for every candidate of that party. Turns out his “split ticket” ballot was OK — you can both select straight ticket, and also vote directly for candidates from a different party. Interesting!
9 voters who refused to wear masks (some with children of various ages, who also refused). Some of the refusers were defiant (“I have a right to vote without wearing a mask”), and some would not meet your eye.
I left my assignment inspired, and educated. I’m also curious about how the voters I saw processed actually voted, and will probably look at the stats on that.
I was compelled to be a poll watcher because I needed to continue to do whatever I could in this election. Like so many life experiences, I ended up getting more out of being a poll watcher than I gave. I recommend it.
Katie Brennan is a River Forest resident and a village trustee.