Working the Polls

Halloween is my birthday.

In a normal year, I would have gone to dinner with friends at one of the Bay Area’s fabulous restaurants.

But this isn’t a normal year.

This year there’s COVID-19. And an important election. This year on my birthday, I am working the polls.

I have been a poll worker for every election since the fall of 2014, a year after I retired from my day job (the one that provided the regular paycheck and the pension benefits). Writing is now my day job, but I do have time for other things.

During the primary in 2014, I voted at a polling place near my home and mentioned that I was interested in volunteering. One of the poll workers directed me to the Registrar of Voters website for Alameda County, California, which is where I live. I volunteered to work and got an assignment as a clerk during the general election in November, attending a mandatory class. My polling place was at a local high school, where the students were curious about the election and the voting process. They kept coming by the room to check it out. That’s a good thing, I thought.

For the next few elections, I worked as a clerk, judge (second in command) and then an inspector (in charge of the polling place). Our location was the social hall of a local synagogue. There were multiple precincts voting at the same location. Voters who showed up knew they were at the right address, the one on the voters’ guide that they’d received in the mail. But they were sometimes confused when asked which precinct. That we could determine by their address. Two polling places in that location was fine. Three was manageable. But for one election, we had five polling places in the same room. That was chaotic.

The primary for 2020 was early in March, before California battened down the hatches and locked everything down on March 17. The Registrar of Voters office has been working since then to devise the new procedures that are in place for the general election. The person in charge of the polling place will be a Registrar of Voters employee, with volunteers taking on the duties of clerk and judge.

In California, voters check in by signing the roster index next to their name. In the pre-COVID world, that was a loose-leaf binder. In the new normal, it’s a tablet computer with a stylus, and it will be sanitized after each voter uses it. California uses paper ballots. Instead of giving voters a ballot from a box, we will print each ballot individually. I’ll be staffing one of those computer/printer stations. My fellow poll workers and I will be wearing gloves, a mask and a face shield—and we will sanitize equipment after each use. Masks and social distancing required, which procedures in place for those who refuse to wear masks—which I hope won’t be a problem.

Alameda County has done away with those old polling places that might be located at a school, a synagogue or someone’s garage. Instead, each city has a number of accessible voting locations of 2,500 square feet or larger. The AVL is the place where people can vote in person or drop off the mail-in ballots received by all registered voters in the state. I’ll be at one of those AVLs and fortunately it’s just a couple of blocks from where I live. And this year, election day is a voting period, starting on October 31 and running through November 3.

I did celebrate my birthday, as it happens, by having dinner with friends. I hadn’t seen them in eight months. We wore our masks, except while eating, and socially distanced at their home, eating take-out from one of our favorite restaurants.

3 thoughts on “Working the Polls

  1. I served as a poll worker for the first time yesterday, so your post this morning was especially interesting to me. I’d love to hear more details about how the process works in California! Maybe a longer post?


  2. Janet, you are a Yankee Doodle Dandy, for sure. I never thought about volunteering for a job like that but you certainly have given me food for thought. I also know you served in the armed forces, so you have a history of giving to our country. Thank you. You give as good as you write.


  3. Interesting. Life has changed in many ways–and I doubt it will ever be the same. However, since I’ve been around a long time–I’ve seen many, many changes and it never goes back to how it was. Be sure and let us know how your experience was this time around.


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