I always wondered where the people sitting behind the tables at the polling stations on Election Day came from. Yesterday I found out for the first time.
I saw an ad on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, Translators wanted for Election Day. Since I haven’t had real steady work lately and because I can speak Spanish fluently I went to the website called Election Day worker. I filled out all the info and got an email a day or tow later saying I had been approved as poll worker. Nothing about translating, but you get the same amount of money for either job.
I figured there would be some kind of training, so I scheduled a training session for myself. Four hours of it two Tuesdays ago.
The training was interesting; twenty-five or so average New Yorkers of mostly middle age and of all races gathered in a classroom of a converted Public School on 127th Street in Harlem. I found out that both Sylvia’s and The Red Rooster are on the same block on Lenox Avenue on the way there. I looked at the menus posted outside and determined that they are both a little pricey. I can smell a tourist trap anywhere.
Three women, one Chinese American and two African American, led the training. They were very thorough with the training, which can be a little complex. The sanctity of the secret ballot is taken very seriously and there are many steps taken to insure the accuracy and honesty of the vote.
The best part was the call and response chanting of:
“What time do the polls open?”
“”What time do you have to be there?”
“What time do the polls close?”
“What time do you leave?”
“When the site coordinator says we can.”
“That’s right, you won’t get paid until you sign out, and you can’t sign out until the coordinator says you can.” We repeated the chant a few times that afternoon.
At five A.M. yesterday I strode into PS 153 on Amsterdam Avenue after a brisk five block walk from my apartment on 152nd Street. The school lunchroom, which was the poll location, was already a scene of controlled chaos as complete strangers pitched in to set up tables, chairs, scanners, and privacy booths. There were posts to put up and signs to hang. Each table was an Election district. I had no idea what to do, so I wandered around with my report to work order, hoping someone would give me some direction.
I determined who was the man in charge, and approached him at a moment he took a break from barking orders.
I noticed he was collecting the report to work envelopes and handed him mine as I asked where I was supposed to go. He handed it back and said:
“OK everybody, I’m gonna say it again, Take your report to work envelope, and cut out the part that has your name and job printed on it. Write your poll worker number on the back. Put that in the name tag holder you’ll find in your district box.” Then he glanced at the back of my assignment card and said, “ED 31, AD 71 table. Inspector.”
If I had bothered to read the inside of the card I would have known that my job was to be a table inspector at the table for Election District 31, Assembly District 71.
I found the table, which had been set up with no help from me and there was a thin African-American woman in glasses rooting around in the election box. The election box is a big steel locked box that contains all of the blank ballots, the ballot sleeves, pens, ID card holders, and most importantly, the voter lists of that district. Each district has its own box, and it’s own two inspectors.
I approached the table and introduced myself. I’ll call her Kim for the sake of anonymity. She looked a little older than me, and joked that she was letting her age show by mentioning Petticoat Junction. I used to watch that show too.
Kim was heaven sent to a first time election worker like me. She’d done three elections before and knew the whole process top to bottom.
At six the polls opened and people started drifting in. Kim showed me how to find a person’s name, how to direct them to the right table if we didn’t have them in our book and how to keep track of our ballots. If a voter or one of us screws up the ballot it must be voided and put in a special envelope.
There were a lot of rules to follow but thanks to Kim we got through it pretty smoothly.
The unusual thing about yesterday’s election was that one of the candidates for mayor, Sal Albanese was running as both a democrat AND a Reform Party candidate. What was more unusual was that his name was the only name on the Reform Party ballot. This led to endless confusion. We only had one reform party voter and that’s how we found out. She went to the privacy booth and came back to us.
“There’s something wrong with this ballot,” she declared, “there’s only one name on it.” We looked, and sure enough only Sal Albanese was the only name on it. I wondered how someone could be both a Democrat and a Reform Party guy.
“Well, you’re registered as a Reform party voter, and that’s your ballot. You want to vote Democrat instead?” We had been informed they could vote Democrat even if they were registered as Reform Party. But no Republicans could vote.
There was a pregnant woman who was very angry about the world who was in charge of the time sheet, and she walked over to our table at some point and asked when I wanted to take my morning break and evening break. I opted for 9AM and 3PM, respectively, after offering Kim first choice. Kim took 10 and 4.
“And I want everybody back by 5 after the evening break!” She shouted angrily to the room at large.
“Who the fuck does she think she is?” Muttered Kim.
The day went quickly and slowly by turns, and Kim and I settled into a routine. I would look up the voters and she would hand them the ballots with instructions.
“There’s three people to vote for, Mayor, Public advocate, and City Council member,” she’d say as she stabbed at the ballot with two extended fingers bracketing each office. “Only one vote for each, you have three votes to cast.”
Most of the Latinos only wanted to vote for Mayor.
“Who are these other people?” They would ask.
“Well, you don’t have to cast a vote for city council or public advocate if you don’t want to,” I’d explain to them.
Sometime late in the day a woman at the booth closest to me called for help.
“Can somebody please help me?” I walked over, careful not to look behind the privacy booth.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“There’s something wrong with this ballot. There’s only one name on it.”
“Does it say Reform Party on it?”
“Well, you’re registered as a Reform Party voter, which is why they gave you that ballot.”
“What the fuck is the Reform Party?” She asked. I decided not to get into it with her, how she had no idea she’d registered in the Reform Party without knowing what it was, and I just said,
“Ma’am, just go back to the table you got your ballot at and tell them you want to vote Democratic Party. That one had more options.” I saw her return a few minutes later with a new ballot.
There was some name confusion, and one woman who had to use an Affidavit ballot (our only one) because she’d been out of the country for a while and had been taken off the rolls.
It turned out to be a 17 and a half hour day, but at the end our numbers added up and nobody got into a shouting match with the pregnant woman who had some kind of shit fit soon after the last voter left.
I was exhausted by the time Mr. Green, the coordinator said goodnight to me and I walked out into the cool air of Amsterdam Avenue.
I so appreciate the poll workers. Even better when they’re intelligent and informed like you. Thanks for doing this, Xavier.