My Day as a Roster Judge in Ohio

When I received my absentee ballot request, it contained an invitation to work the polls on Election Day. I did some volunteer stuff in ’04 and ’06 and while I wanted to do something again, I didn’t want to make phone calls or knock on doors this time. Both are invaluable experiences, by the way, if you’re looking for a thing to do to support the issues you believe in.

I accepted the invite and found myself in a 3-hour class about 2 weeks later, learning how to be a Roster Judge for a Franklin County (Ohio, home of Columbus) election. Roster Judges in Franklin County are the polling officials who sit at a desk with a copy of the poll register, and who look at various forms of identification while making sure the voting folks are in the right precinct.

After taking the class, I was overwhelmed. There are so many cross-checks and step by step procedures, NONE of which added up to anything coherent as far as I was concerned, that I was afraid I’d really stepped in it this time, and this coming from a woman who went to France by herself without speaking any French. Election ’08 in my neck of the woods was going to be chaos *because of me.* Our instructor was also the author of the poll worker text book printed by the Board of Elections, and he was a good teacher, a booming and proclaiming sort of man who seemed to be impervious to anything, like a high school science teacher who also coaches girls basketball.

Rosters, ATV slips, lost voter slips, print ballot permission slips, provisional ballet envelopes, stuff to be pitched, stuff to be stuffed in special stuff boxes and sealed with a seal, the “cake box,” the flags, the 100 foot string, the pencils, the Bingo markers, the pens — I had to go back and look at it again for the practice sessions the weekend before and it wasn’t just me, by gum. There were lots of us confused poll-workers-to-be and we needed some extra help.

Our day was long. Looooooong. Got to the polling place at 5:30 a.m. and all of the above was out on tables and there were poll workers putting up flags,  and there were roster judges, greeters, machine judge, polling machines, supply carts, “I voted today” stickers . . . and the Public lining up before 6:30 am when the polls opened, waiting to vote. The Best Precinct Judge EVER came over and patted me on the shoulder because I was sending off Nervous signals like crazy. She  said not to worry (I did anyway). She was right, plus I sat right next to an accomplished Roster Judge veteran.

6:30 a.m: the doors open! the people flood in! The machines go down! We divert voters to the paper ballot table. It takes longer and some of the public wasn’t very happy about it. Not the majority, by any means, but one or two. I thought about explaining that gosh, I’d only had 4 hours of training all told, but thought it would be the wrong time to share my career as a Roster Judge.

I think there were 2 tv crews, but I was so busy checking IDs, making marks, checking off boxes, getting signatures (there’s no way a Roster Judge could commit fraud, I give you my word; there’s no time and I’m not sure what the fraud procedure would be) that I only dimly remember seeing a man and a camera and then piff! he was gone.

And that was the only rush and it was over by about 10:00 a.m. That was the drama. No lunch-time rush, no after-work rush; a smallish rush as students and teachers were released from school at about 2:30-3:30. I started yawning at 5:30 p.m. and did not quit until I was at home and ready to go to bed. I wish I’d stayed up for another hour and a half to watch Obama’s speech, but i was nervous as well as tired and wanted to be in a quiet dark place.

We had an observer. I didn’t ask for whom she was observing because we weren’t supposed to talk politics in the polling place and I’m afraid I would have smiled or frowned or something.

The high school boys  who worked the event talked and talked and talked all day. I read a bit from The King’s Last Song.

At 7:15 p.m., a voter came in and at 7:25,p.m. another voter came in. They finished, the machines sorta turned themselves off (I think), we completed our evaluations, took down the flags (which is when I got worried; “what if Obama didn’t win?” I thought, and of course I couldn’t talk about it), ran the tape of the voting machine results (isn’t that cool? I didn’t know you could do that!), unplugged and unhooked the machines (I held the very machine computer chips in my hands, like they were the Host, and bore them gently to their special envelope), and called it a day plus as well all went home.

So that’s how a gang of folks spent their day; hanging out in the social hall of a local church, sharing fruit, chili, potato chips, chicken casserole, and lots and lots of coffee.

Best moments:

A woman who was kicking herself for not voting early and getting the task out of the way. She said her friend called her *three times* and told her to go and vote.

A grandmother who pestered her grand-daughter to vote and drove her to the polls.

A guy who came back when he didn’t have any id the first time.

I asked one man to please remove his campaign button from his shirt, and he did and was very nice about it.

Several folks who said they came back after seeing the early morning rush.

Shook hands with a neighbor and voter from whom I am ideologically worlds apart. One of his men won; the other did not.

Best part: just doing it.



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3 responses to “My Day as a Roster Judge in Ohio

  1. wow, great stuff. Reading ‘the King’s Last Song’ seems so appropriate, from a titular perspective.

  2. I google shared this!!

  3. Thanks Ben. Glad to see Scalzi talked about your book. I read him lots too.

    Dawn is, meanwhile, the best.

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