Perhaps you have been asking yourself how I can get involved. Maybe you have limited time or are not really comfortable with direct political solicitation like canvassing or phone banking. Have you thought about serving as an election officer?
Our electoral system hinges on citizen volunteers, ethical people who volunteer a day or two a year. Each precinct needs Election Officers from two or more parties; it’s a trust but verify thing. Without this check, fraud could occur. A corrupt poll worker can fraudulently check in absent voters that are on the rolls and fill out a ballot. Even if that person shows up later, they can check in someone else to keep the totals balanced and so forth.
Fairly running a precinct is critical. It is impossible to govern if its citizens lose faith in the electoral process. One wonders if the country could withstand another disaster like 2000; and unfortunately not much has been done to prevent a re-occurrence.
Virginia has its share of voter fraud. We have the corrupt Voter Participation Center organization which sent 200,000 pre-populated registration forms in Virginia as well as several 2008 prosecutions. And lest you think that Virginia is clean and pure as the wind driven snow, in 2008, 16 electoral boards in Virginia were found guilty in Federal Court of denying the military vote in fact they had to be forced by a second court order to finalize the count.
And these examples are only what they catch and chose to prosecute. Even in my happy quasi-country corner of Loudoun, a merchant tells me that crisp $100 bills and unfamiliar people magically appear on an Election Day.
During an Election Day, there are four groups that are performing different roles:
Election Board employees: they come on site to inspect the physical layout and opening zero reports, collect interim totals, provide technology support, and answer questions. Of course, they handle collecting and publishing the actual results.
Outside party workers: these form the gauntlet of candidate supporters who you encounter at the polling entrance and who are making their last appeal and handing out sample ballots (be careful of those by the way).
Inside Poll Watcher: these are individuals who have been selected by a political party to remain inside and observe the check-in process. They can challenge (actually anyone can make a challenge) those voters who they believe are not qualified. It’s also common for them to report back to the party mid-day with who has voted so they can figure out and ping their likely supporters have not yet voted. If you want to be a watcher, then contact your local party.
Election Officers: these are the 5-12 volunteers who operate the precinct. They work as agents of the county election board and take an oath to conduct the precinct according to the law with no political advocacy. There is a Chief and sometimes an Assistant Chief so you don’t have to learn all the detailed rules (and believe me there are many). You can choose the task that you are most comfortable in performing; and I assume most counties are like Loudoun, which provides a short classroom and hands-on training with the equipment.
- An Election Officer may help with the following tasks:
- Initial setup of furniture, equipment and signs.
- Check-in voters and hand them a paper ballot or electronic voter card.
- Monitor electronic voting machines. An Election Officer has to scan a security card before each person can vote.
- Monitor paper ballot readers and handle spoiled ballots.
- When large crowds are expected, someone may help people waiting on line to verify if they are in the right precinct.
- Disassemble and store the equipment.
- Fill out, cross-check, and secure the paperwork.
The Chief and Assistant Chief are there to handle all of the one-offs, the rare out of sorts voter, and the paperwork. It really is low stress; and again, you only have to do the tasks that you are comfortable in performing. The technology is easy and if there is an equipment problem then the Chief will handle it.
I guarantee that you will enjoy the interaction and meeting new people. I have never encountered a grumpy poll worker; everyone is there to protect the integrity of the process and that is its own reward.
You can request to be assigned at your regular precinct although it helps if you are flexible enough to be reassigned where they have holes. In Loudoun, you can decide if you want to work a half or full day and they compensate you around $100, which shouldn’t be the reason but it does make for a nice dinner. You can also sign up as a group to work a precinct, just make every effort to recruit people with different political persuasions. State law prohibits employers from obstructing your participation, but in my experience, employers are happy to support community volunteers.
The only inconvenience is that you can’t leave the building, no cell phones, and you need to vote absentee if you are not working at your own precinct. You can have another person bring you food and other necessary items, just no socializing or giving out any information.
If you are interested, contact your county election board now since they are finalizing preparations for November.