Politics: Poll Worker 2020

In early 2020, I volunteer-clerked at the Presidential Primary election in San Francisco. Thus, I learned a bit more about election logistics. Overall, it was similar to clerking in 2018, but some of the details were pretty different.

I clerked at the Avila Chinese Immersion School, site of the 2-Tone Game's "Checkmate" puzzle. (That puzzle uses a tile mosaic on the school's exterior wall.) When I found out about this, I was pretty tickled—I had a personal connection with this place. But maybe I shouldn't have been so tickled; I didn't visit the mosaic during the day. This was an elementary school, with little kids scurrying about. I'm not sure if it would have been illegal for a grownup like me to mosey through to the back, but it probably would have been pretty creepy.

It was still a fun location, though. We were in the school library. During a couple of lulls, I flipped through a big Historical Atlas of the USA, which was pretty. But it wasn't all great. The library had comfy chairs, better than the Department of Elections-provided folding chairs…but those comfy chairs were kid-sized. Similarly, I had to kneel down to drink from the drinking fountain (until I realized that was silly and I filled up my coffee cup at the fountain instead).

But it was a lot more swank than a residence basement.

Our crew was:

It helped to have five people instead of three people (like the first time I'd clerked). We set up the polling place in less than an hour. (Or maybe we finished quickly because our manual was missing some steps? Our setup instructions didn't tell us where to find our list of of registered-in-the-last-few-days voters; we were surprised to find that list while packing up at the end of the day. So that was one step missing from our instructions. Who knows what other steps were missing? Anyhow…)

People voted. There were cute dogs.

This was a primary election. In California, the state holds primary elections for the parties. Thus, there were 30 different types of ballots for this election. There was a ballot for Democrats, a ballot for Republicans, a ballot for Greens, a ballot for people with no party preference, etc etc. Multiply that by three languages, it adds up.

One party's name confused some voters: the American Independent party. Folks who didn't want to choose a party would instead choose American Independent because "independent" sounded like what they wanted. Anyhow, I guess that's why folks registered in the A.I. party were surprised to hear that they were in a party at all. In California, some parties have "crossover" primaries: if you were a No Party Preference voter, you could nevertheless vote in, for example, the Democrat party presidential primary by asking for a Democrat "crossover" ballot. Except some folks thought they should ask for the Independent crossover ballot instead, lest they get automatically registered for the Democrat party. (This wasn't a crazy worry; California gives voters a lot of power; by filling in a form on a ballot envelope, you can re-register in a different party.)

As a responsible (and not-wanting-to-go-to-jail) election clerk, you can't tell voters "You chose the wrong party." But by the third time a confused voter had come back asking whey they didn't see the primary candidates they expected… Even if I didn't tell voters they'd chosen the wrong party, I was definitely thinking it.

I like it when voters vote easily. That party name tripped voters up, embarrassed them. I sure wish the American Independent party would change their name. I think "Champion Eagles" would be a great party name; they can have that one for free.

More people voted. There were more cute dogs. The day passed.

We had a surprise non-voter visitor: Allen Cohn, of Doctor When puzzlehunt fame, stopped by to see how many folks had voted at our polling place.

Packing up went OK.

This year, our security seals were different than back in 2018. When you pack up stuff that you don't anyone to tamper with, you seal it. E.g., if you zip up a printer into a printer-carrying bag, you seal it by putting a plastic strip through the zipper pulls, a special plastic strip that forms a loop through a fancy ziptie-like fastener. Back in 2018, maybe the low point of my day was finding out that I'd been using these seals wrong. There wasn't a good way to fix my mistake—we hadn't had enough spare seals. So I'd snapped a photo of a seal so I'd remember to get it right the next time I clerked. This year, we had new seals. So I didn't need to worry about those hard-to-use 2018 seals. (Although I don't know that I used the 2020 seals correctly; nobody checked my work while I was around. Anyhow, let's assume I used them correctly; at least they were easier to use. I burst blood vessels in my thumbs struggling with the 2018 seals.)

Around 9:30, Inspector Rebecca sent us clerks home. We made our way out into the night, having helped along our little corner of democracy.


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