The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, May 10, 2022 1:00 am

Republic's guardians

Poll workers assure free and fair outcomes

Mark Rudolph

Notes of a first-time poll worker.

We arrived by 5 a.m. at our polling location, a modern Midwestern suburban church situated on an asphalt road where suburbs and exurbs have replaced corn and soy fields to accommodate the expanding population.

The ample parking lot is empty except for our four cars. The sun is still asleep. The sky is overcast and rain will fall the entire day.

We are comprised of an inspector, two judges and two clerks. All but one clerk and me are seasoned volunteers.

The inspector called me about 10 days ago to see whether I was still planning to attend. She had had a cancellation and needed to confirm.

She oriented me with the basic info on my duties, how to prepare, what to expect throughout the day, and steered me to the website for formal training and my info packet. I also received in the mail a hard copy of everything she told me.

I did my training and brought my materials with me.

The evening before voting day, the inspector, my fellow judge and I came to the church to set up the voting machines and orient the room for voters. We followed the precise instructions from our packets.

We cut seals on all equipment. We co-signed a bevy of documents to ensure witness impartiality. And we sealed each document and each item of equipment per instructions to be ready for the morning, when we once again cut seals, signed documents, and readied the equipment for the 13-hour voting day. Our polling location was one of hundreds across the county implementing the same procedures.

During our morning setup, an election official arrived to attend to our needs and brought doughnuts. He asked me to step into an adjoining room.

He warned me that some Republican supporters were rumored to be coming to certain polling places to “watch.” Anyone who attempted to “hang around” could only do so with a specific chit signed by the official head of his local party. Otherwise observers needed to not influence in any way any of us legally conducting the election process.

Mostly, he warned me, do not escalate. But if there was trouble, he gave me his phone number. Not that he could do anything other than commiserate. Or maybe bring more doughnuts.

At 6 a.m., our inspector opened the door and yelled her “Hear ye's!” into the rainy morning to formally launch voting.

A pair of early risers were first in line. They follow our red tape on the floor to the reception desk, where the clerks verified their identity, registered their party (for primaries only), secured their signatures on the iPad then printed their voting chit.

Each voter then took their chit to a judge (in this case me), and I verified orally that the data on the chit was correct then showed the voter to one of our four voting machines, where I inserted a card. I selected the voter's precinct, designated their party, then removed my card to call up their ballot. I explained briefly how to mark the ballot, confirm their vote and cast their vote by pressing the large red button at the top.

The voter then privately and securely voted. The machine accepted the ballot, which we will tally at the end of the day with a paper backup, and recorded via Bluetooth to the electronic storage component specific to our polling place (and, for security purposes, not connected to the internet).

That's it. The first voter has spoken.

During the next 13 hours we will receive 330 voters. That represents just over a 10% turnout. Add in early voters and absentee ballots and we probably come up to the paltry average turnout of 13%.

What did Ben Franklin say, when asked after the drafting of the Constitution whether we had a monarchy or a republic? “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

Thirteen percent of us determine the ballot for the general election. In November 2020, Indiana ranked 43rd among all states with a turnout of 61%.

By my limited observation, more than 80% of these midterm voters were Republican. Well over 90% were white.

As poll workers, we represented both major political parties. Party affiliation, however, never  came up in our conversations during the process of carrying out our duties, which we conducted in a non-biased manner, as I expect did every poll worker at every polling location throughout the area.

Casting doubt on the integrity of poll workers is a vile, ill-informed insult to all the volunteers and professionals who invest their time and energy to make this expression of our democracy an ongoing, free and fair success.

 At 5:59 p.m., our inspector yelled her “Hear ye's!” outside the church door into the sunny, though still rainy, day and closed the polls. No one was waiting by then.

The inspector, my fellow judge and I pulled up the red tape from the floor, ran through the precise checklist for tallying results, and secured and packed the equipment. We ran a final tally tape for each voting machine in three copies: one copy for Democrats, one for Republicans and one for the Board of Elections.

The inspector and I, one representing each party, then delivered our storage devices and results, with paper backups, to the Board of Elections, where we vied for parking with all the other teams arriving to sign off their delivery of results. Results which are so efficiently collected and tabulated that the morning newspaper has everything ready for you to read before you brush your teeth.

Next time you wonder about the freeness or the fairness of our elections, first, be sure to vote, then, if you can find the time, volunteer to work a polling site.

The rumored “poll watchers” never showed. I wonder whether they voted.

Mark Rudolph is a Fort Wayne resident.

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