Reflections of a new Election Inspector

By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO

From time to time I write about subjects other than technology.   In this case I am writing about my time as a rookie Election Inspector, i.e., Poll Worker.

I was contacted via email in September by an organization called Vet the Vote which encouraged me to apply to become an Election Inspector.  The Vet part of their organization name means Veterans.  I served in the US Army just a few years ago.  The email explained that there is a nationwide shortage of workers on election days.  I believe in strong communities so I applied to the City of Appleton.

Just like a real employee, I filled out several forms, mostly online, and submitted my latest resume and references.  I believe this was expedited because I went through a similar process when I applied to become a volunteer computer helper at the Appleton Public Library.

It took a while, but I was accepted as a candidate for the position and sent PDF forms to fill out like an i9 and other new employee paperwork.  I filled them out and electronically scheduled for my training a couple of weeks before election day.

The two hour training was held in the morning of October 24th in typical PowerPoint fashion.  Kami Lynch, City Clerk, conducted the training and was very personable, answering all questions from the roughly 25 new Election Inspectors in the room.  We filled out and submitted new employee paperwork about half way through the training and had pictures taken for our future badges.  The city is renovating offices, so the bathrooms were in the basement while our training was on the 6th floor.  Like other Wisconsin municipalities Appleton uses Badger Books, an electronic method of tracking voters and polling places.  I imagine this is so much better than previous stacks of paper that became outdated as soon as printed.  The group received some hands-on training with Badger Books at the end.

After the training and paperwork was accepted, I was asked to fill-out a survey to determine our availability on November 8th, mid-term election day.  I was happy to be assigned to my regular polling place and signed up for the whole day – crazy me.  It turns out the whole day is 6:30 AM to 10 PM or later, more on that to come.

About a week before election day, Fran, our Election Chief, sent an email with expectations of the day.  We were to arrive at 6:30 AM at the polling place to get signed in.  There were some snacks, but lunch was on our own.  Maybe a pizza would be ordered for supper.  I sent her a thank you message looking forward to the adventure.

I arrived promptly at 6:10 AM on election day, but nobody else had arrived.  The place was dark, so I went for a walk.  At 6:25 AM people started arriving and the polling place was opened, but not to the public.  The experienced poll workers quickly took their places at the four Badger Books stations and the ballot table.  I picked up my badge and waited for my assignment.

People started lining up at the polling place well before 7:00 AM, the official start time of Wisconsin elections.  The lines were long that morning, often looping around in the hallways and out the door.  Apparently, people were very energized for this midterm election cycle and wanted their voice to be heard.

Fran placed me at the voting machine where the ballots are tabulated.  Appleton sends absentee and early voting ballots from each district back to the polls for tabulation.  In between voters, I would feed in the ballots for tabulation.  It may look odd to the voters standing in line that a poll worker would be taking stacks of ballots to feed into the machine, but this is far better than trying to process all the ballots at city hall.  There were two boxes full of absentee and early ballots that needed to be processed by two Inspectors which took most of the day.

I tried to thank each voter for coming and wished them a nice day.

The people just kept on coming and I was starting to think that I would not get a chance to vote myself.  Finally, around 10:00 AM, there was a slight lull in the lines and I was able to vote.

The number of voters were numerous and we ran out of “I Voted” stickers that morning.  The Badger Books stations were starting to run low on paper as well.  Once a voter signs in, a printer spits out the ward where the person lives.  The voter takes the slip of paper back to the table to pick up their ballot.

Our polling place also had an electronic ballot machine that was used for early voting.  The Inspector at that station did a nice job of directing some people to the machine instead of using the paper ballots.  Both types of ballots feed into the tabulator.  If the paper ballot had an error, like voting for two people for the same office, the ballot would spit back out with an error message.  The voter would be directed to return the ballot and receive another.

From time to time, Fran would put a hold on the process to take a count and make sure the numbers added up.  Most of the time the numbers looked good and we could continue.  She frequently thanked us for the good work.

I got a small lunch break around 11:30 AM, but felt compelled to come back early due to the long lines of people trying to vote during lunch.  Fran filled in for those out to lunch and we received some relief from a part-time worker.

My next assignment was crowd control where I remained the rest of the day and evening.  One of our Badger Books stations was being used to process absentee ballots, so we had three stations for voters.  I would hold the person at the door until a station was available then direct them to the appropriate Inspector, usually by the color of their clothes.

This worked quite well for a while until the after work crowd started forming.  Meanwhile, standing in place for so long was not good for my body.  My knees started to ache and muscles were complaining.  I put the pain aside to help the people vote.

We received a resupply of slip paper and voter stickers in the afternoon.

At one point the tabulator alarmed with overflowing ballots.  Fran and a few others went into action opening the machine and putting the ballots in a secured bag.  The rest of the workers halted all voting until the tabulator was cleared and ready to accept more ballots.

Many people commented on the long lines, but that it was good that people were exercising their right to vote.  The pastor of the polling place visited and offered me a high chair where I could sit occasionally.  Much appreciated.

Fran stopped to tell me that she wished I could cross-train on other stations, but we agreed that I should keep on with crowd control.

The lines remained long into the evening and more people needed to register to vote.  Fran made the decision to dedicate one station to voter registration, while the other three worked through registered voters.  Later even more people needed to register so she switched two stations to voter registration.  The ladies working the absentee ballots switched between processing ballots and signing in registered voters.

The pizza supper was only a passing thought as the team worked hard to get through everyone that needed to vote.  We did get to eat some of the snacks that some workers bought.

With the people that needed to register lining up in the middle of the floor, the sight lines to see the Badger Books stations were gone.  Laura, another worker, began the process of signaling me when an opening was almost available.   In that way we got registered voters to the stations as efficiently as possible.

 Finally, around 7:30 PM the lines started to thin and all stations were open to registered voters.  The ladies had finished processing absentee and early voter ballots.  One voter slipped in just before closing the polls at 8:00 PM.

Just because the polls are closed doesn’t mean the work is done.  We still had to shut down all equipment and put them away in boxes.   Like all packaging, it is much easier to unpack equipment than to repack.

Then we started to sort all the ballots by wards, especially separating ballots with write-in votes.  Remember that these ballots have already been tabulated.  Sorting is necessary in the unlikely case a hand recount is required.  Due to the large number of ballots it took a long time to sort.  Then we went through the piles of ballots again to make sure they were sorted correctly.

After the second sort, we packaged and sealed the bags for transport to city hall.  It was 9:45 PM when it appeared we were finished.  A very weary Martin Jansen signed out and made my way to the car for the ride home.

In retrospect, I see the huge value of Election Inspectors as they work with voters to assure a smooth as possible process.  A few may complain, but the process works well and makes sure that voting is balanced and fair.  It makes for a long day for the workers – for many in excess of 15 hours, but the Election Inspectors I worked with were very dedicated to their duties.  For me, election day was a blur, one hour fading into another.  I received many thanks from the voters who were happy we were there to help them along the way.

Would I do it again?  Yes, but maybe I will limit my hours next time. Overall it’s a rewarding experience serving the community.