Insider View From An Election Judge

Election Judge BadgeWhile serving as an Election Judge yesterday, I told a gentleman that we had gone back to voting with pen and paper. He laughed. When I escorted him to a privacy table and he saw me place the paper ballot, folder, and pen down he loudly blurted out, “You were serious?” I answered, “Yes, I was! You thought I was joking?” He really did. From the side, the tables looked like the old electronic machines and most people didn’t really understand the change until until they saw the table and commented,“Oh, there isn’t a machine in here!”

The City had a tough time getting people to volunteer to serve as judges for the ten voting districts. Friday night at around 8 PM, a staff member was still calling former judges in an attempt to round up a few more, even offering half-day shifts. The number of judges needed went from 15 last week to four on Monday.

Judges start at 6 AM and work until after 9 PM. During this time, no electronics are permitted especially your cellphone. You may not leave the building and can’t even stick your head out the door. When you accept the situation, the experience can be quite liberating. We were all very social and enjoyed talking with each other. I was also happy to see old friends when they voted.

The New Voting System

Most people wanted to know what happened to the voting machines. I must have explained at least 350 times about the State of Maryland wanting a paper trail, so each voter needed to use paper and then scan it electronically. Most people appreciated the explanation but I can’t imagine having to explain during next year’s primary and presidential elections when thousands more will be voting!

The little tables with visors on the sides were apparently purchased from the King County Election Board, wherever that is. Purchasing used tables was a fiscally-sound decision and we joked about how you could probably buy them real cheap from all the places converting to electronic systems while we were going back in time to paper.

One thing to know about the new scanners. No matter which way you feed your paper ballot into the tray – face up, face down, top first, bottom first – it will record your vote. Judges advised placing the ballot into the scanner face down to keep the votes private, but the scanner reads both sides.

Although it was obvious that some voters needed to use the touch-screen of the Electronic Printing Device instead of paper and pen, many voters did not know they could request this option. One friend left me a message about how voting with pen and paper was difficult for those with arthritis. Any voter experiencing difficulty with the pen or standing could sit down and use the touch-screen device. We also had a visually-impaired voter who used the headsets to vote with the machine and it worked quite well.

About a dozen voters filled out their paper ballot incorrectly for one reason or another. One voted for five council candidates. The scanner will not record your choices if you pick too many. The circles must be filled in, not marked with X’s or checks. If you make errors, you can have up to three paper ballots, then you are not allowed to vote.

My Personal Experience

Our District 1 team at the Elwood Smith Recreation Center was a great group. Earlier this week a friend told me that being an Election Judge can be a good experience if you serve with good people. This turned out to be quite true.

Each location must have at least one Chief Judge. During setup on Monday night the person expected to be our Chief was called and quickly hung up the phone after explaining she would not be helping. Our most experienced judge agreed to step up and save the election. Our small group of five judges vowed to work with her and get the job done. Armed with our manuals, we rallied to make it happen. Kudos to Ellen! A City Staff member came by for the closing of the polls to make sure we did everything exactly right.

Each district was also assigned a technician from Montgomery County to help with the equipment. Our technician was always on his feet assisting voters and making sure the new scanner experience went well. Near the end we realized he wasn’t required to do as much as he was doing. However he served with a smile on his face as he went above and beyond his duties. At one point he said, “Cindy, only 4 ½ more hours!” and I pointed out that I could drive to New York City in that amount of time and it would be a long trip! We were all always joking and having a good time.

Another one of our judges spoke Chinese and he was instrumental in helping a few voters navigate the system. I don’t know what we would have done without him to interpret. As we encourage our diverse population to participate, we will need more bilingual speakers to lead the way.

One of my fellow judges lives in my neighborhood and when I discovered that she needed a ride to the polls, I picked her up and dropped her off at Victory Court. As we rode home after the election, we agreed we were beyond exhausted but it was a fine feeling from a job well done.

Election Results Timing

Some years I’ve gone to bed before the preliminary results were released. People wonder why the electronic systems can’t announce the results quicker. Each polling place has to pack up the equipment, count all the unused ballots, count all the voter check-in slips, and seal all the machines and bags with special tape and numbered tags. Several forms record all this information and must be signed properly. This took a little more than an hour. Then all the equipment is taken to the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Gaithersburg. The results are tabulated and the announcement is made.

Altogether with training, setup, and Election Day, I served 21 hours for my $120 stipend and I would do it again. I’m very happy to have served and don’t regret a single minute of the experience.

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