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Poll Worker Training Journals

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Several OffTheBus Grassroots Correspondents are also poll workers. We asked them to journal their poll training. Below are their accounts.

"We had our final training before the November 4 election yesterday. Much of the emphasis was on how to handle challenges. Iowa has a new law that requires challenges to voters be in writing. A person may not challenge groups of voters but must fill out a form for each challenge. If it appears that there will be a pattern of challenging, the chairperson of the precinct is asked to call the county Auditor's office. The County Auditor has a big book of Iowa election laws in her office. However, if she has a question she can't answer she calls the Secretary of State.

Security is a big thing. If a voter "spoils" a ballot and requests a new one, the voter must write SPOILED on the ballot. Each voter is allowed up to three ballots.

Each scanner in the precinct has been tested with a variety of types of marked ballots. They are tested to see if they are accurate for each type of vote.

Absentee ballots that have not been returned before election day can also be problematic. If it is recorded that a ballot was mailed to the a person, the voter must surrender that ballot to election officials on election day if they have not mailed it before hand. Then the voter may be given a ballot to vote in person. If the mail-in ballot has been lost, a provisional ballot may be cast and counted after it is ascertained that the absentee ballot was not received.

If there is any question about a voter's registration, residency, or other eligibility, the voter may have a provisional ballot that will be counted by the special election board. It is up to the county election board to decide how provisional ballots are counted. This is mainly to prevent persons from voting twice.

Our county does not seem to be too concerned about large numbers of voters. There have been many early voting opportunities both in person and by mail. A resident may go to the county auditor's office any business day and vote in person up until election day. We are to expect lines and have discussed the best way to handle crowds.

We have our assignments, we have planned for lots of food for us on election day, and we will all try to get lots of sleep the night before. We are ready."

Susan McIntyre
Grinnell, Iowa

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"Most of us have experienced a poignant moment in life where a lump the size of a softball materializes in your throat, perhaps obliging you to gulp hard not to just bawl out loud; perhaps a tear or two slips down your cheek before you can wish it back. Maybe it was your little one's first day at school, standing to sing the National Anthem, hand over heart at a ballpark, watching "Extreme MakeOver: Home Edition" or similar emotional stimulus wherein the heart suddenly swells to twice it's capacity, and all your grown-up reserve temporarily goes south.

I had just such a moment at my PollWorker's class Wednesday. I packed what I considered necessary tools: my favorite Pentel roller ball, my loose-leaf notebook, reading glasses (groan) and breath mints (I was a Girl Scout - always prepared for any contingency).

I am elated to've been invited to work our polls during Election Day, a first in my life.

I was gratified to learn there is real training for this work, that people are not just turned loose in the polling places willy-nilly. Frankly, I had no idea how the administrative end was conducted; I know each state has a Board of Elections, but beyond that, Grand Canyon-esque gaps in my knowledge base insofar as how we are provided the physical means to vote; how it is actually safeguarded.

But I digress; my jello heart moment befell me when we were told to stand and raise our right hands and take this oath:

"Do you swear to faithfully execute the office of election official and will, to the best of your ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Rhode Island, and all the election laws and rights of the people thereof? "

Temporarily blinded, I did my best to croak an audible "I do!", but there was that honkin' huge softball thing...

As we pulled out our official manuals (58 pages !) and shuffled for pens, I considered as how I'd always thought of the Constitution as protecting me. Now I am being asked to protect IT. I could feel the shadow of our forefathers over my shoulder, whispering of an ancient and historic longing for freedom and free process to choose our leaders. I am an Election Official !! I notice this fierce sense of guardianship rising in my middle, similar to the maternal drive to shield and protect at any cost. The gravitas of this settles on me, as much as if Thomas Jefferson or John Adams stood in front of me and told me personally to "Go make a place for the people to vote, and make certain it is fair and honest". I feel the ghosts of so many present in this room; of George Washington stepping down after two terms, catapulting John Adams into the hot seat, ushering in the first two-party election between the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans. ( Yes, Virginia, we were once one.)

This is a sacred tradition and unworthy as I am, it is my charge to carry it out and assist my fellow citizens in making their voices heard.

I come back from musings of 1796 to the assembly room and begin frenetic note-taking.

There's an awful lot of rules.

Like, rules for where you sit, whom you sit by at the poll table, what you may not wear ( no campaign paraphernalia is permitted), and strictly outlined job descriptions for each category of pollworker. I learn I've been assigned the title of "Supervisor", which blows my skirt completely over my head.

I am now not only an Election Official but also a Supervisor. I will be unbearable when I tell my family about this. I'm feeling mighty important, but at the same time curiously humbled by the magnitude of the responsibility.

More rules: no voter in the polling booth for longer than 10 minutes, special voting booth for the disabled ( called an AutoMark); an unfettered flow of traffic in and out, voters are not permitted to linger; no voter leaves with a ballot in their hand ( a felony offense), meticulous care given to explaining the marking of the ballot, so that it does not appear the voter has been told/suggested whom to vote for; exquisite care must be taken to peel the correct bar-coded label out of the polling book identifying each voter; no one touches the ballots except the supervisors and moderator, and so forth; so many explicit, heavily detailed instructions.

This is quite a lot more complex than I'd anticipated, but I am encouraged by it. This is our votes being protected. This is me, protecting your vote.

The atmosphere in the room had begun as politely noisy, the buzz of excited conversation humming; during the lengthy explanation of rules, the immediate quiet was respectful, somber. Most of the crowd of approximately 50 were retirees and seniors. What other demographic could devote 12 hours out of a work day to staff the polls ? It made sense but did nothing for my menopausal ego. I think some young folk in the pollworker training would've been good. They need this experience; they need to know what this is.

Bob from the Board of Elections gives us a PowerPoint presentation on our duties and guidelines thereto. I am impressed by the level of professionalism and detail given to our teaching materials. We are urged via slide show and written materials to make certain the voter will be voting at our polling place BEFORE we remove that bar-code label. Apparently the fifth ring of Hell opens it's gaping, foul maw if you mess up. I am resolute NOT to mess up. We are told to take our manuals with us Election Day. I visualize myself carrying one of those handcuffed-to-your-wrist briefcases, ceremoniously removing my manual at the appointed hour. It pleases me and I smile to myself. I plan to keep that rascal close by.

We all scribble notes furiously, earnest to get the voluminous tome of information down. I am delighted to learn the machine you feed your ballot into is called "The Eagle". It is all connected, all synergistic, geared toward a single outcome: a vote being placed in privacy, guarded solemnly, to choose our President, our own leader.

I looked up once at Board of Elections Bob and notice a huge, carved golden eagle over the dais behind him that I had somehow ignored prior. The Great Seal under the eagle's claws states "Hope", underscored by a banner proclaiming "Liberty, Justice, Truth, Equality". I sit taller in my folding chair.

This is what all the hue and cry is about. These are the true stakes of this election, an momentous milepost in our collective history.

After class we are given distinctive fifty-cent piece size badges to wear which state in an important all-caps font: "ELECTION OFFICIAL, PROTECTOR OF DEMOCRACY". They look like under-stated jewelry; the most valuable jewelry I will ever wear.

I clasp mine in my hand for a moment, feeling it's heft and energy, then deposit it in my purse where I keep my credit cards. It is the currency of freedom, of democratic process. It is precious beyond words.

I have to be at the polls at 6:00 a.m. on Nov 4th.

It is a day I will never forget, the day I helped protect the Constitution of the United States.

I'll be wearing my pin, waiting on you to come and exercise your Constitutional rights. See you there."

Susi Franco
Narragansett, Rhode Island

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"I just left the training session filled with 45 people. We learned about our rights as citizens and how we can ensure that people will be able to vote. Provisional ballots will be given if the voter is not on the voter list. We are to ensure that those votes are counted. We were also told that the GOP will be throwing everything at us and that we should expect the worst and hope for the best in terms of behavior. We were also instructed to smile and never engage (do what Obama would do); take the high road!

We are to arrive at 6:30 am prior to poll opening and all of the literature & buttons will already be at the polling place. As a poll-watcher, I will be providing people with sample ballots and answer any questions that the voter may have. While working inside, I am to be sure that the voting machines are working and monitor the behavior of the clerks. The Obama campaign has thought of almost everything. They will provide a list of voters in our districts and their corresponding polling places in case we need to re-direct them. An attorney will be present and we will have the phone numbers available if our attorney is not present.

I guess the message was, we will no longer sit idly by and "let" things happen. We have learned a valuable lesson over the last 8 years and we need to stay on top and monitor, monitor, monitor."

Danielle Kleinman
Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania