True Privilege of Serving as a Poll Observer

Cantor Laureate Sarah Sager shared her in recent virtual meditation/reflection (found here), her positive experience of serving a poll observer during early voting.

Although I was nervous about doing it for two days in advance, I had the true privilege of serving as a poll observer during early voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.  I had previously signed up for the training, without which one cannot serve as a credentialed observer.  I not only did the training, but I studied the very detailed and very exact Poll Observer Manual.  As the whole idea of being an observer is to spot any issues of voter intimidation, marginalization or suppression, and yet not to confront or be contentious in anyway, I couldn’t quite imagine how it all worked.  There is a whole process of reporting to follow if an observer sees something, but I just couldn’t imagine how that observing would actually happen!  At any rate, I presented myself at 7 am before the polls opened on that weekend at 8 am, and I was immediately transported into a very busy, bustling, well-organized, and well-run operation!!

I was formally met by the Democratic Clerk to the Board of Elections.  He checked my credentials and actually swore me in.  He then introduced me to the Manager of Candidate Petition Services and the Supervisor of Early Person Voting.  They were both cordial and generous in answering my questions, but they were both clearly focused on the jobs they had to do.  When the polls opened at exactly 8 am, there was already a line of people waiting to get in.  Every person was welcomed and directed to an available window where they could be checked in and given a ballot.  As this was the downtown Board of Elections, it is a big operation!  There were 12 windows for check-in where every voter presented identification.  There were another 5 or 6 windows for handicapped individuals to check in while seated.  As poll workers became free, they waved a lighted wand so that the people supervising the line could tell the next person to take their turn.  On the day I was there, over 1,300 people were processed between 8 am and 4 pm.  Most of the time, there was no line at all, but when there was, the longest anyone waited was not more than 10-12 minutes.  Once each individual received their ballot, there were about 50 voting booths available.  When they finished voting, there were workers ready to help them scan their ballots, thank them for voting, and direct them to the exit.

I saw absolutely nothing that would suggest anything but straightforward, honest voting was going on.  If anything, the workers were bending over backwards to ensure that every eligible voter had the opportunity to vote.  At every two-hour interval, the Supervisor of Early Person Voting gave me a copy of the numbers from the last two hours, which tracked not only the number of people who voted, but the number of provisional ballots that were given out.  That was one of the metrics we were trained to watch for.  A normal number of provisional ballots is about 3% of the total.  At the end of the day, the number of provisional ballots given out at the Board of Elections was 2%.  I see that as a good indicator that there was nothing suspect going on.  No one was brushed off with a provisional ballot or told that their legitimate address could not be found, or that their perfectly legal identification was not acceptable.  Provisional ballots were given out when appropriate and only when appropriate.  For 8 hours, individuals of every size, shape, color, age, gender, ethnicity, and faith came in to vote.  Every single one was welcomed, processed, and given a ballot.  No one was turned away.  No one was harassed.  No one was made to feel that somehow they didn’t belong there.  On the contrary, when a new voter registered, the worker who processed that person rang a bell and a whole chorus of “hurray’s” went up all over the room!!  There were several first-time voters during the course of the day and every time that bell rang, it was a moment of joyous pride and celebration!

At one point in the afternoon, the Manager of Candidate Petition Services, which seemed to mean that he was in charge of the overall operation, explained to me that they encourage parents to bring their kids and make voting a family affair.   In fact, they have ballots for the kids to fill out when the parents are in the voting booth.  I thought that the messaging of that for the present and the future, was just terrific!!  That same manager shared with me that many of his staff members have been with him for years and he has been doing this for 23 years!  The Supervisor has been there for 15 years!!  Many of the staff are friends and socialize outside of work.

At the end of the day, there had been not one altercation, not one unhappy voter that I could see.

When I thanked both the manager and the Supervisor for allowing me to be present and to wander freely, I told them both that I had been inspired by their hard work and the hard work and devotion of every worker in the room. I added, “After all that we are hearing and reading concerning the election and the legitimacy of our elections, it was comforting and uplifting to see the process working so well.”  The Manager said, “Please tell people that.”  It was the first indication all day that anyone in that room was affected by all that is going on in our country right now.  It made me realize that these serious, devoted professionals feel maligned and undermined by all of the press, all of the threats, and all of the baseless accusations.

While I am not naïve to think that my experience will be repeated everywhere in our country, as far as I could see, that day of early voting in Cuyahoga County had nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with democracy.

Exactly as it is supposed to be.

Cantor Laureate Sarah Sager