Being a NYC Poll Worker

Yesterday, I served as an NYC poll worked in Forest Hills High School, located on Ramones Way.

I was my inauguration to being an official poll worker. My experience in working elections goes way back.

I grew up on Staten Island. Nearly three decades ago, I spent many years in politics. I worked for a former NYC Council Member and mayor. I served on many winning and a few losing elections.

I am sure my readers remember the old school voting machines. I miss those. A day or two before Election Day we would go to the Staten Island NYC Board of Elections District office to inspect the machines. We went in with a bulldog of an inspector. We looked at each machine. We checked to see if the ballots were installed correctly and the machine’s levers worked. Of course, we found mistakes, which were corrected.

Jumping ahead.

My dad and some of his friends served as poll workers in Plant City, Fla. I used to tease him and his festive gang. They served with pleasure. Last September, I applied to be a poll worker. I was selected to do the training course at the Queens Board of Elections office.

I arrived for my class. The other trainees and I were ushered in and seated. The trainer said we are all here for the poll worker training class, right? We said yes. She began to give out paperwork. A woman seated to the left of me got confused. She asked where she could get an absentee ballot. That is what she came for. There are signs in the building that direct you to the floor for that and to the training room. The instructor told her to go to the tenth floor. She remained seated. The class started. Several minutes into the class she again asked about an absentee ballot. She was escorted to the elevator and told to go to the tenth floor.

The class went on for about three hours. I took the test and got 100%. We are supposed to get $100 for taking the class regardless of pass or fail on the test. The caveat is you only get paid for the training class if you are selected to work election and you work. Not fair. If I wasn’t selected, I feel I should have still gotten the $100. I agreed to work if called. It was not I saying I would not work.

A few weeks later, I was assigned to Forest Hills High School. That’s a five-minute walk from my residence. I was happy to be placed at thi poll site. I was expecting to see Sheena or Cecelia. I didn’t. But I felt sedated by the end of the day. I had to get that out. FYI — The Ramones and Simon and Garfunkel graduated from this fine institution. Captain Kangaroo and the founder of Woodstock, too.

My assignment was a scanner inspector. Over the years, in Fla., my dad was both an inspector and a deputy. He has been gone for over six years. Somewhere I have his poll worker badges. I looked around my apartment. I could not locate them. I wanted to keep them in my pocket while I worked.

Yesterday, at 5 a.m. eastern, I arrived at the poll. I went to the cafeteria and was told to stand near “scanner D.” I received the police envelope and went to work. I was only a scanner inspector for about 10 minutes. I did notice that the red police seals on my scanner didn’t match what was printed in the envelope for my scanner. People at other scanners noticed similarly. The election coordinator told us not to worry about it. During the training, we were told everything had to match.

A woman came over and said I had to leave the scanner. Someone else was going to take care of it. She gave me a bag of face shields. I was told to distribute. I did. Then I was assigned Election District (ED) 44/ Assembly District (AD) 28 as a table inspector. Two friendly women worked with me. They were in charge of scanning in voters. I gave out the ballots.

Thankfully at the table next to me was a gentleman from a shul I once attended. It was his 12th Election Day. He’s a super guy and was very helpful. I was hoping we would be working together.

The table workers got the iPads ready to scan in voters. We set up ballots and waited for the clock to strike 6 a.m. It did. Our coordinator yelled, “Polls are open.”

Working the day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. was a great learning experience. Including, the training, the salary is a total of $350. We must break down the day into different categories. There are many. However, ballots, how to vote, the use of an iPad, and language ability are key to hone in on.

Ballots

Queens is the most diverse of the five boroughs. So our ballots were all printed in English. Bengali, Chinese, Korean and Hindi were included on the ballots. For example, you had a ballot where the top was written in English. The bottom was written in one of the aforementioned languages. My poll place had Chinese and Korean ballots.

When we check people in we had to note on the iPad, which they received. We told people not to worry. We had one English speaking Chinese man complain he received a Korean ballot. He made us void it and asked for a Chinese one. He expressed his loud dismay over receiving the Korean ballot. We had an English speaking Chinese woman receive a Korean ballot. She looked at us. She was told she could receive a Chinese ballot. She smiled. She said I am fluent in Chinese, English and Korean. I don’t care. She walked off and voted.

How to vote?

Many people had no understanding of how to vote. Here’s the trouble we encountered.

  • We signed in a woman. I had handed her ballot. She said, “What’s this?” I said, “your ballot.” She thought she already voted because she was signed in. We had to explain to her to fill out the ballot and place it in the scanner. This took several minutes. She still didn’t seem to get that signing in wasn’t casting her vote

Use of an iPad

You may remember during prior years, you went to the table for your ED and signed in a book and was handed your ballot. Due to Covid safety precautions, this has changed. You still went to your ED/AD table to sign in to retrieve a ballot. However, you now signed in on an iPad. The NYC BOE mailed out scan cards to registered voters. They asked you to bring them to your poll to help with sign-in.

Thankfully, many voters remembered to bring the cards. The iPads scanned the voter’s information right in. For those who forgot it or didn’t receive it, we looked people up by name. Once we found your name, you were told to take an instrument that served as a traditional pen and stylus. You were told to use the stylus section to sign your name. Your signature must match how you filled out your election registration.

Once signed your ID card signature popped up. We did many re-signings. People do change their sigs from years ago. Several weren’t on file. We had forms for that.

Here’s more of trouble we encountered.

  • Many people tried to use their pen or opened the stylus pen and dug into the iPad to sign. They were instructed on how to sign.

Language Ability

Many languages are heard in Forest Hills. This includes but is not limited to Chinese, Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish and even a little English. The most common language you hear is Russian. There is a growing Asian population. But right now there are more people of Russian background. There are plenty of shops on 108 Street where everything is written that way. The BOE had Chinese and Korean interpreters sitting at the front table.. I did not see anyone ask for them. For the most part, the interpreters spent their day conversing in English and eating junk food.

We had a woman at my table. She asked for a Russian interpreter. None were hired. What did we do? We told the election coordinator. She asked someone to look around the room and see if they could ID Russian looking people to see if they could help this voter. She did get to vote. In a heavy Russian speaking neighborhood, why were no Russian interpreters hired? Who knows? Perhaps it was political. Perhaps it was not.

In addition to the above, we encountered several folks who were not registered but claimed they were. We had them fill out affidavit ballots. Word on the street is that those are recorded and thrown in the trash. We had people who vote elsewhere. Some should have voted in a school a few blocks away. Some should have voted in Nassau County. But they all swore Forest Hills High School was their polling place. In many cases it was there polling place a decade ago.

The clock struck 9 p.m. The last few voters shuffled in. They voted. We closed the polls and cleaned up.

There is a lot to learn from this day. We need people voting. But we need them to understand the process. The BOE has to up its game and have qualified people for the EDs it serves.

Originally published at http://mitchellthoughtsblog.wordpress.com on November 4, 2020.

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