This election, I decided to try something different and volunteered as a poll worker. I was given the role of “standby judge”, and late yesterday the Registrar’s office called to say that my help was needed as an Inspector at a downtown Oakland polling location whose regular Inspector was sick. Having had a three-hour class that taught me all about the voting process this year and otherwise no relevant experience, all I knew was that I had been put in charge of a polling place where I was to spend a 15-hour Tuesday supervising the primary point of democratic feedback.
Things I learned today:
- You can seriously never have enough pens. Our critical path today was pen availability: the R.O.V. gives each precinct a certain number, and then a bunch of people show up and that number runs out. We tried to buy more in the middle of the day, but there wasn’t a nearby store that sold ballpoints in bulk. Next time I’m bringing a bunch of bics and keeping them secret until the evening voter rush, at which point I will quietly disperse them into the penstream.
- People find it surprising when you greet them at the polls by saying “I know you from Twitter” (hello, Mitch).
- Election technology, at least in Alameda County, is basically Peak Papernet*. Every piece of the system works together and the County seems to run their elections by Slashdot standards: there are voter-verifiable paper audit trails for the touchscreen, most voting happens by filling in a little broken arrow icon with pen and paper, every sheet and envelope includes a unique identifier with a tear-offable receipt, and every box and bin comes with tamper-evident stickers. Every piece of the process, including the end-of-day shutdown procedure, has built-in safeguards that use simple counting and sorting procedures to ensure that each ballot is accounted for in some numbered ziploc bag: counted, provisional, unused, spoiled, etc.
- One effective way to ingratiate yourself with a group of people you’ve only just met is to spend $25 at Whole Foods on a bag of gift snacks. Cookies and fruit seemed effective, including the vegan ones that come in a paper bag and everyone goes “ew, vegan” and then they try them and holy shit.
- I am basically happy to cheerfully yell the same thing all day long, to an unending stream of new voters. I’ve always enjoyed the security lines at airports where someone in a sharp suit yells at everyone to keep moving, so I tried to do the same thing here. People in groups faced with bureaucratic procedure become cattle, and need to be helped along not because they don’t know what to do but because everyone in line needs to know what everyone else knows to do. “Keep moving”, “wait here for five minutes while the floor clears up”, “give this envelope to the man in the hat”, and “Hello what’s your last name?” are most of the words that came out of my mouth today.
- A system must include provisions for constant forgiveness.
I was sad to see Prop 19 go south and I still haven’t had the heart the check if I was successful at kicking the BART Board to the curb, but otherwise it was one of the most exciting and exhilarating ways I can imagine to spend a weekday and make $100 in the process. I would totally do this again, and I recommend the experience to pretty much anyone.