November 6th was Christmas and my birthday and Hannukah wrapped into one brilliant package of unceasing excitement and realization of all of the political nerd fantasies I ever may have had thus far in my life. I was able to serve as an election judge in St. Mary’s County.
As part of the Parties and Elections Class, I am expected to participate in some form of Civic Engagement activity, something that has me advancing the interests of our electoral democracy. I couldn’t help but relish the opportunity to take as strong of a role as possible, I wanted to be on the front lines, seeing it happen first hand. (The lucre helped too.)
A month ahead of time, myself and another student met with the other election judges for the particular precinct; we were trained in how to set up and assist voters with the polling machines as well as how to check in voters. A relatively uncomplicated process, made easier by the comparative tech-saviness that her and I had over many of the more elderly folk who also know how best to spend a Tuesday in November.
The night before the grand festival of votes, we went to the Elementary school that served as our precinct and prepared the machines for the next morning. Nothing particularly eventful, although with 17 polling machines and 4800 registered voters, ours was the largest precinct in the county.
“The stockings were stuffed by the Chimney with care..”
On election day we arrived at 6 AM, giving us a very fast hour to turn on the machines and have everything ready to go. There was a substantial line of people queued up at 6, upon seeing those voters hungry to cast ballots I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement ignite throughout every fiber of my being.
The onslaught of voters began at 7 AM sharp and did not relent until 11 AM or so. I alternated with the other judges between checking in voters on the registry, “No I do not need to see any I.D, but please state your name and your home address, please” and taking voters to the poll machines themselves, “Are you familiar with how our machines work? Not really? That’s okay, it’s a touch screen, just use the pads of your fingers. If you make a mistake, be sure to re-select that mistake to make it disappear.”
Those same phrases followed me throughout the entire day with very minimal variation. Occasionally a voter would check in who was registered in a different precinct or even a different county, and the procedure for voting provisional would be explained to them and they would be then given the option to go to their correct polling place or cast a paper provisional ballot here. To my recollection, only one person was turned away completely and that was because she was not registered to vote.
As noon came upon us, I was granted leave to go to the break-room and indulge in what was the finest pot-luck I have ever had the gustatory pleasure to experience. Home-made stuffed ham, freshly baked pumpkin rolls, chili, sloppy joes, chicken casserole, sausage-egg-cheese casserole, hummus dip. All of the comfort food a person could desire was there before me. I take no shame in saying that I returned many a time to that room even when it wasn’t exactly lunch or dinner.
As the day went on, the amount of voters began to slow down substantially. By the late afternoon, the line was kept consistently very low, usually no more than 10 people at once. This reduced the workload for the judging staff and allowed them to attend to more pertinent issues (such as one’s third or fourth trip to the break room.)
At 8 PM the polls closed and what followed was a remarkably efficient operation of the judges very quickly counting through the voter-verification sheets next to each polling machine and verifying that they match the totals given by the machines themselves. They all did, and the machines were quickly packed up and stowed away. By 9:15 people were saying their goodbyes and it-was-nice-to-meet-yous, my friend and I were soon able to return back to campus to allow for the real celebration to begin: the witnessing of question 6 be accepted by Maryland and the prevention of a Romney Presidency. A very good day indeed.