I, like many others, saw a myriad of posts on social media about Fulton County needing 250 poll workers the week before election day. Considering I’ve been furloughed from work due to COVID-19, I decided to sign up since I would be available all day.
I sent an email to the contact listed on June 6th but did not hear anything back so I assumed they had gotten all of the people they needed.
I received an email from the outside staffing agency on Monday afternoon, June 8th, asking me to complete payroll paperwork, etc so that I could be on-boarded and assigned a poll precinct.
The registration link I was provided initially did not work but once I realized it was just due to a typo in what he sent me, I was able to log in and complete the employment application. Once that was done, I was sent my poll location and a link for Fulton County’s online election training – I was to watch the videos that night and be ready to roll the next morning. This was at 8:30 pm. I sent an email asking what my shift hours were/what time should I arrive. I got no answer until 10:30 pm when I sent a text message to the person who had been emailing me.
The 4 hr training consisted of 5 videos and an exam – I finished all of this at about 2 am. Then laid down to get up at 6 and report for duty at 7 am.
When I arrived, the line was already wrapped around the library and the doors had not opened. I went inside to see the poll workers (PW) milling around, most not knowing what to do or what needed to be done. The machines were not working. No one knew where the provisional ballots were. And only one young lady seemed to be familiar with the provisional process, anyway. (There wasn’t anything mentioned in the training videos about how to process provisional ballots, by-the-way.) There was one (1) IT person on site at the time and she was on the phone with her resources trying to figure out what the problem was with the machines not acting right. It’s now about 7:15 am and our doors are still not open for voters.
The line is now wrapped around the entire building and we started taking chairs out to some of the elderly and disabled people we could identify in line. (I was never told that seniors could be moved to the front of the line and it was not mentioned in the training. I was told if I saw “anyone with a cane,” they could come inside.)
When I came back inside, the poll manager and IT specialist had brought in the first voter in line to “test” the machines. She was aware of what was going on and agreed to the trial run. The poll pads were working fine so they processed her with no problem but I think they still had issues with her card being read on the BMD. They let in another gentlemen to test another machine and he seemed to make it through the whole process without issue. FINALLY, we were making some progress.
While that was going on, I was across the room trying to understand the provisional ballot process – which is when I finally spoke up and asked aloud if we had provisional ballots on site because the poll manager had been “looking” for them for the past 20 mins and none were surfacing. Flustered by everything that was going on, the poll manager (PM) finally went out to his car to see if he had left a box during unload- hoping to find the missing ballots – but when he came back with nothing, they called the warehouse. Whoever answered the phone looked around and saw our precincts box sitting right there on the warehouse floor. (The PM maintained that the warehouse had loaded up his car when he went to pick everything up so he didn’t know that he didn’t have all that he was supposed to receive.) The warehouse was “sending them right over”. It is now 7:25 am.
After all of this, I asked the young lady who was briefing me on the provisional process if they had been able to complete any of the first 2 voters because they were both still standing around. She indicated that the man had successfully completed his vote but the lady was still having issues. I hadn’t seen him scan his ballot and I remembered from the training that that was the final step before leaving. I mentioned this to her and she went and whispered to one of the assistant PMs who then went over and asked the man a question. He then reached in his pocket and pulled out his printed ballot. (Deep sigh) She walked over to the scanner and attempted to insert it but… the scanner was offline and had never been set up. Big surprise.
I went over to try to assess the machine (not trying to play savior but I worked at FedEx Office in grad school so I can usually clear a paper jam or something…) It was beeping and kept asking for a key so the PM sorted through the keys on his lanyard but the machine didnt seem to have a slot for an actual key anywhere. He eventually handed me a 2 page document, asked me to see if I could figure it out and walked off. [In the meantime, they have begun moving voters through the line and we were depositing their print-offs into the emergency ballot slot.]
I read through the document and after looking at the assistant PMs lanyard, realized that the missing key was actually a flat, magnetic button-like “key” that the PM and Asst PM had the whole time. It just had to be held down over the matching button-like receiver on the machine in order to complete set up. I got the machine running and we were finally fully up and running. It was 8 am.
Also, we had no air conditioning until about 8:30. So we were all frustrated and HOT.
Beyond the morning’s issues, the rest of the day ran relatively smooth with a steady stream of voters all day. I’ll just list out the rest of what I saw – nobody wants to keep reading of my commentary.
- Social Distancing – I lied, I got more commentary.
- Machines: At one point, I was managing the flow of voters to open machines and in charge of wiping them down after use. I tried to space voters out as the machines were side by side. I expressed what I was doing to voters and all were understanding of my process and many thanked me for making the effort. The PM disagreed with me holding people if there were open machines and said to fill all machines. He said to me on the side that the panel doors served as “dividers” and were sufficient for social distancing. I don’t know if this was true policy/practice or not but that is the instruction I was given.
- Lines: Outside there was little to no social distancing in the lines and and I spent 3 hours managing the flow at the door of the library lobby to keep down overcrowding inside.
- PPE: I spent 5 hours on the emergency meeting/call Thurs, June 11th, where the elections director’s May Operations report indicated that they acquired a large allotment of PPE from the state in addition to what Fulton County had purchased for voters. This was surprising to me because I never saw any PPE available to voters and what I saw available to poll workers was minimal. I brought my own masks and gloves from home and used them but don’t think there was enough to last all of us the whole day.
- Drop Boxes
- I talked to several people who never knew that drop boxes were even available around the county. (And these are active, involved voters.)
- The box at the precinct I worked was HARD to find and not visible from the street.
- Non-partisan Ballots
- I had several people ask me why they hadn’t been allowed to vote for president or congress and what we realized is that they had selected non-partisan ballots so they didn’t to see ANY of the candidates since they are partisan. I had at least 4 people cancel their ballots to select a partisan version to be able to have vote. We started notifying anyone who asked for a non-partisan ballot that they would not have these choices to help cut down on canceling/reissuing ballots.
- Extended Poll Hours
- Notification: My PM said he first learned of the time extension via word-of-mouth. He eventually got an official call but he did not have any details, specifics about how to proceed. If the MANAGERS are barely getting information, imagine how much info voters got…
- Policy – Machine vs Provisional Ballot: I was told that the court order to extend the hours meant that all ballots after 7 would have to cast on provisional ballots. I plan research if this is true.
I worked a 12 hour shift on about 4 hours of sleep (with one 20 min lunch break) and while I was dog tired, I was so glad I was there. To witness it, to learn, to help, to get fired up about doing more. I say all of this to say that the Georgia voting system is BROKEN – but we knew this – and I worry about the August election (that many are overlooking) and the Big Cahuna in November being no different.
One thing I think we can control is getting some younger people out to work the polls. Please, if you’re reading this, sign up to work the polls in your county. We are digital natives and – like me who only got the info the night before – will be able to navigate the system and its issues a lot easier than the older crowd who is just not as technologically saavy. Also, more people means you’ll get more than a 20 minute lunch break…
I say we do what we can because Elections Director Richard Barron does not seem to have a plan to ensure this does not happen again. Neither the Elections Director or Board seem to know what powers they do and don’t have when it comes to making changes to improve or adjust the process. I hope they take community organizers up on their offers to help staff the polls this time.
A lot also sounds like he is also at the mercy of the state and the Secretary of State. Director Barron said he requested 8-10 high speed scanners and initially only received 3 machines, and then a few more – still only totaling 6, and none of which were the high-speed, high-capacity version he says he requested.
There’s so much more that I want to say from that Board of Registration and Elections meeting but I think I’ll save it for a separate post. Stay tuned for that.
Did you have a crazy voting experience? Have you ever signed up as a poll worker? Will you be signing up for the next election? Let me know in the comments.