November 3, 2020, time 2-4 pm
It was a balmy day, the sun warming the crisp air, there was a slight breeze but not enough to make standing outdoors as an outside poll observer uncomfortable. Election Day was a beautiful day in autumn, which to me signaled that better days were ahead of us.
I made sure I had all the necessary documents and information to do my task as a volunteer inside poll observer for the democratic party, to ensure the integrity of the election process which was under attack by the president himself who had been sowing doubts about the trustworthiness of the system and rumored suppositions about him not conceding should he lose and threats to protest the result as fraudulent.
Well, the two hour I spent was a lesson in the democratic process and how well it was working under the hands of dedicated men and women who made sure everything was done correctly.
There were seven election officials headed by the chief, one was the greeter, 2 were seated behind plexiglass screens at the registration desk with computers to check in voters whether they had proper ID’s, and whether they are in the correct polling precinct, another seated at the next table who handed the voter the proper ballot. I inquired why there were different official ballots being handed out. One was for intown voters who needed to vote for mayor and other local officials, in addition to the general presidential elections, and the other ballot was for the general presidential election only. Assisting this election officer were 2 Broadwater students who organized the ballot folder with the official ballot, pencil, and I-voted decal. One at large official who sanitized the booths after every voter, and the 7th guarding the ballot scanner machine to ensure that each ballot is scanned and counted properly. There were no other persons permitted inside except the observer from each party.
I arrived early for my shift and noted that the party signs were planted at least 40 feet from the polling area, several outside poll observers were standing around similarly distanced from the polling place and all were wearing masks, but you could tell from their eyes, that they were smiling and ready to greet every visitor to the place warmly, and bidding them a good day after they have voted. There was adequate parking across the street in the church parking lot. I did not notice any news media crew or protesters or any groups hanging around. The path to the poling entrance was clear and once near the door you could read signs about how the voting will be conducted, and about needing to have proper ID and masks. There were masks available for those who came without, and hand sanitizers. Only 4 voters were allowed inside at a time so marks were on the pavement indicating where to stand in line properly distanced for covid protection while awaiting their turn. There was a steady stream of voters while I was on my shift but no waiting. Generally one completed the process in 10 minutes, from checking in with the registration desk to make sure you have the proper ID, address and correct voting precinct, to filling your paper ballot at one of the 4 voting booths fitted with privacy screens separated at least 6 ft from each other, and submitting your completed ballot into the ballot scanner. Most voters were in a good mood, making small friendly talk with some election officials they recognized even while wearing masks. There were no incidents of concern that will jeopardize the integrity of the voting process, but there were several issues that came up which I was told were fairly common.
There was a voter who was registered as an absentee voter, but has lived in the area for many years, but has not changed his registration after he retired from military service, who wanted to vote in person. This was referred to the chief who checked with the registrar by phone. The voter was allowed to cast his ballot after filling out a change of address form. There were several change of address issues encountered, but all were able to vote after filling out a change of address form.
There were voters who were registered at another precinct and were given directions to their correct precinct.
There was one curbside voting, which was handled by the chief himself, The voter credentials was checked at the registration desk by her caretaker, then the chief brought the ballot to her car, where she filled it out, the chief put it in an envelop and dropped it in the ballot scanner machine.
The issue that took longer to resolve was a voter who needed assistance in understanding the instructions in the ballot, who made a mistake in her ballot, and requested if she could have another ballot. She was given another ballot, her first ballot was voided and placed in a big envelop. She filled the 2nd ballot but this was rejected by the scanner. She didn’t know what she could have done to have the machine reject her ballot. Her 2nd ballot was voided. The chief tried to determine what caused the rejection, and found out that there was an inadvertent mark in the choice box which was the opposite of what she filled out. She was now clearly frustrated and asked for assistance from her daughter to fill out her 3rd ballot.
After her daughter filled out the proper forms and receiving her assistance, the voter marked her 3rd ballot and left beaming and triumphant after the scanner machine finally accepted it.
These were learning moment for me, a first time inside poll observer, and provided me with enough action to make the volunteer work exciting, rather than exhausting. I only had to work 2 hours, but the election officials had a long day already at 4 pm when my shift ended, as they started before 6 am and will remain there until after the poll closed at 7 pm.
At 2:10 pm the vote count was 398, and when I checked out at 4 pm, it was 438. In 2016 a total of 1064 votes were cast in this precinct. There was still 3 hours of voting and at the busy hours after work, but clearly the in-person voting had low turn-out. So it would appear that the majority of the votes cast were early and mailed votes, as reported that about half of the voters had cast their ballot in Virginia before the election.
I went home to join my family for a sumptuous shabu-shabu and oysters dinner, went to bed early after watching a movie on Netflix, and purposely avoided watching any election news. But I awoke at 3:50 am and couldn’t return to sleep so I watched the election returns coming closely contested in battleground states, with Biden far from having a landslide victory, but will probably win in the end, but preempted by the president announcing his premature victory and inappropriately calling for stopping the vote count, and reiterating his paranoia about fraudulent mail-in votes.
A beautiful day today, perhaps we will walk to the beach and enjoy the last warm days of fall.