Yesterday (Election Day) was a 20-hour day. Can’t remember the last time I had one of those. Up at 5.00 am in order to report to my Check In Clerk post by 6.00. In bed at 1.00 am that night (technically Wednesday morning) because I had to wait for Elissa Silverman’s victory speech and then I had to upload my photos to Facebook as soon as I got home.
Highlights of being a poll worker:
1. Working hard. People starting lining up to vote at 6.30 am—30 minutes before the polls opened. Then more people arrived, and kept arriving. It took over two hours until there were only a few people waiting in line for a few minutes. There were only a handful of short intervals in the middle of the afternoon when there were no voters to process.
We checked in 1,620 people, and talked to another 150-200 who had issues that required us to fill out a form and send them to the special ballots table. The longest I heard of anyone waiting to check in was 20-25 minutes, which means we did a good job of moving people through. (See #4 for reasons why it could have been faster.)
2. Meeting my neighbors. I was excited to be assigned as a Check In Clerk in my own precinct. Whenever I checked in someone from my block, I made a point of introducing myself. I met a few people whom I had contacted when making campaign calls for Elissa, and it was fun to put names and faces together. One of the other first-time workers also lives on my block. I ran into him, his wife and baby on the street today. In the past, we would have nodded hello at each other; today, we stopped to chat. Our Check-In Captain lives in the neighborhood as well. We met last winter at a snowstorm dinner my next-door neighbor hosted.
3. Trying to make the system work: #1. Seven people were assigned as Check In Clerks to this precinct. We were given six electronic poll books (voter rolls).
DC’s “e-poll book” and a label printer
This wasn’t so that we could work in shifts, or anything like that. It was the BOE equivalent of supplying one package each of hotdogs and buns without accounting for the fact that hotdogs come 10 in a pack while buns are in packs of 8. The precinct and deputy captains each requested another e-poll book multiple times, but no one ever delivered it. Eventually, one person from our team moved to the paper ballots station, where it turns out help was really needed.
One of the computers was broken a good part of the day, including during the evening rush. A roving tech came and fixed it, but that didn’t last long. (Shockingly, it wasn’t my computer so I’m hopeful that maybe I’m no longer “IT Special.”) Two of the printers ran out of labels. We had two extra rolls, but no one had been trained on how to load them because each printer was supposed to start the day with a new roll that contained more than enough labels for the whole day. The tech fixing the broken computer loaded one, but without training us on how to do it. When my printer ran out of labels later, we tried to reload it but weren’t successful.
4. Trying to make the system work: #2. The Board of Elections bought nice, pretty carts that hold both the electronic voting machines and the machine into which voters feed their paper ballots. Who knows why. Maybe someone thought these would be more convenient for everyone. You know where this is going. New carts = new layout for the room, designed by “them.”
And how was the new layout? Short version: it sucked.
Longer version: The layout placed the electronic clerks across the room from the cart (they moved next to it early in the morning, but then had to stand all day) and the design of the cart meant voters using one of the machines had no privacy (and, of course, the machine that was broken the first few hours of the day was the other one). Various lines crossed each other and there was no easy way for us to direct voters to their next stop, causing more than a few to wander the room confused.
Basically, this was a living example of the central office having no understanding of the situation in the field. Although this was my first time as a poll worker, I quickly joined the “I liked it the old way” chorus.
Elissa Silverman highlights:
She won! Once dismissed from cleaning up the polling place around 9.00 pm, I dashed home to get my car and join the crowd waiting for election returns. I’m a little fuzzy on the time (because I was a bit tired at this point), but it became clear Elissa won sometime between 10.00-11.00 pm. At that point, I’d waited long enough to know the results, what was a little longer to hear the victory speech (which started just before midnight)?
Elissa ran a true grassroots campaign, and thanked everyone in the room for all the work we did to help get her elected. She asked us to hold her (and her colleagues) accountable to our values of making this a functional and prosperous city for all.
By the time I climbed into bed around 1.00 am, I was happily exhausted.
Background about this race: Elissa came in second place during the special election to fill an at-large seat in April 2013. She went from being virtually unknown, having never sought any political office, to making a “strong showing” by running on issues “with potent appeal for future elections, such as next year’s mayoral and council races.”
This time, Elissa won. If you want to know more about her, here are a few good reads: Washington City paper endorsement (scroll down past the mayoral race), The Washington Post get to know a candidate, and Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund endorsements (disclosure: I’m on the board of, and volunteer with, the sister organization, JUFJ).
Photos from the victory speech of the (almost) Honorable Council Member Silverman.