Working the Polls


I have been seeing troubling rumors on social media, from both the far left and the far right, of how they expect the coming presidential election to be stolen. They don’t say how. It’s mysterious. Maybe it will be done with computers, by the people who count the votes. Maybe bad people will come to the polls and impersonate people who are dead.

I’ve been a poll worker for more years now than I can remember. We have seen a lot of amazing things, but we have never seen an election get stolen out from under our noses. Our voting machines here in Hunterdon County are antiquated, which means that no one can hack them. (Having spent thirty years in the computer industry, I believe I’m qualified to say that.) At the end of the voting day the machine prints out a tape of who got the votes. It’s posted on the firehouse door or wherever, and a copy goes to the County, to be added to the others and fed into the great stream of national election results.

People don’t show up and vote pretending to be other people, dead or alive. There is no need for voter ID. In New Jersey, those of us who work the polls are forbidden to demand ID from the voters. We know our voters  here in Lambertville, because it’s a small town. Every voter puts a signature next to the signature in the book. Okay, that’s you, here’s your ticket.

If there are too many voters in your district—one hears of such things happening in, say, Pennsylvania—if there is a line outdoors and around the block, such a crush of confusion inside that poll workers can lose track of who is actually voting, if the people outside are giving up and going home, then the answer is smaller districts and more polling places. The process is being mismanaged by your election commission. It’s not a fraud problem.

Gerrymandering is as close as anything comes these days to a stolen election, but that is already in place. If it comes as a surprise to you, you aren’t paying attention. They told you about it in high school civics. It’s a very old practice.

A hundred years ago the money that the parties poured into the electoral process went straight into the hands of the voters (who were all men, by the way), in the form of bribes-for-votes, $2.50 a vote, $4.00, $5.00, or straight down their throats in the form of free drinks. No expense was wasted on advertising to win hearts and minds, just pure graft. They didn’t tell you that in high school civics, though you may have wondered why it was illegal to serve liquor on election day in certain states. Now, instead of the voters being paid directly, the middle men in TV and the internet are getting rich by airing political commercials. I guess that’s progress. But you can’t exactly call it stealing the election.

No election will be stolen on our watch, not in Lambertville. We poll workers take our responsibilities very seriously. To a certain degree the firehouse is sacred space on election day, where voting is a holy ritual of democratic life. It’s true that there are voters who show up without proper preparation, like church parishioners who come to Mass only on Christmas and Easter. Maybe they’ll come to the primary election and try to vote as an independent. You can’t do that in New Jersey. You have to vote as a Democrat or a Republican in the primary. Or maybe they’ll fail to read their sample ballot and get into the booth with no understanding of the questions, whatever they might be. Then they hold everybody up for ten minutes while they figure it all out. Questions, as framed by our legislators, can be quite difficult to understand. Still we are happy to see anyone who comes in the door, prepared or not. They are our voters. We are here for them.

So don’t disturb yourselves over the specter of stolen elections. The republic has weathered all sorts of chicanery over the years and has managed to right itself time after time. The will of the people is heard, and the non-winners contain their disappointment until the next election, when they can have another go. In a democracy there is always tomorrow.

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