It turns out that the job of Election Judge has a lot in common with being a festival artist. The setup of the polling place, and the pack down, felt awfully familiar. Arriving for work at 6:00 am, I'm used to that too. As well as interacting with crowds of people, all day long. "Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. Thank you. Have a nice day. Good afternoon. Good afternoon. Thank you. Thank you. Have a nice day." Make people feel welcome, make them feel like they are in good hands. I can do all of that.
It was fascinating and humbling to see the process behind the scenes. It is serious work. Lots of laws need to be followed. It seems to me that Montgomery County has developed a thorough and accountable system. It is quite a rush when a voter reveals that this is their first time voting, because they just became a US citizen. How do so many people take this for granted? I admit that I peeked at some of the comment cards left by voters, we got excellent reviews for efficiency and customer service. The part I was looking forward to the most was handing out the "I voted" stickers. I can now say, with first-hand knowledge, that it felt as good as I imagined. I'd say all of the voting hours were as rewarding as I thought it would be.
Now for the parts that weren't so great. My assigned precinct, Glen Haven Elementary School, is home to an unknown quantity of cockroaches. We didn't see any during the day, but after 9:00 pm or so, we saw them in swarms. So why were we there after 9:00 pm? Because setting up and packing down the polling place was interminably slow. Both of the Chief Judges were first-time Chief Judges. They did their best, but the process was unplanned and disorganized. Anyone who knows me well understands that the words "unplanned" and "disorganized" cause me a lot of distress. There was lots of reading-out-loud of instruction manuals, and phone calls to the Board of Elections tech support. Way too much standing around doing nothing. Thank goodness my fellow judges were able to maintain a sense of humor as the hours dragged on, even after the air conditioning was turned off. Did I mention the cockroaches? We were not excused from duty until 12:30 am. The Chief Judges still had a pile of paperwork to do, but they were gracious enough to let the rest of us go.
I am used to having control over my time. I also consider time to be uniquely valuable, and I spend it carefully. I would like to continue working as an Election Judge, but I need to consider whether I can afford to donate more 6:00 am to 12:30 am days.
(fyi ... Montgomery County Election Judges do get paid. But we can choose to waive the payment, which I did because my tax return is complicated enough. And like I indicated above, this is something I've always wanted to do, and never expected to be paid for it.)
When I was in training for this a few months ago, one of the trainers asked me if I wanted to be a Chief Judge for this Primary Election Day. I thought that was odd, given that I had no experience. I told them I would consider it after I had an election or two under my belt. Now it doesn't seem as strange, I know they are willing to train people with little or no experience. Ultimately, the Chief Judges at my precinct did get the job done, albeit slowly. I bet I could do it. I am good with electronic devices. The pollbooks and voting machines seemed easy to me. And again my festival work is a very similar concept. When I was a teacher, I had to plan projects and supervise groups of people all the time. It would be like getting twelve potters through a wood-firing. (The potters are like the judges. The hundreds of pots are like the voters.) Maybe if I was a Chief Judge I could get everyone home earlier? Or would it mean I would be the one who stays after 12:30 am when everyone else gets to leave?
I need a few days or weeks to figure out how I feel about continuing to do this. I need to decompress from the experience first. It was pretty intense.
Did you know that while working as an Election Judge, we are forbidden contact with the world outside the polling place while voting is going on? In this modern day, it's weird to go a whole day without checking your email. When I dragged my tired ass into my house, I headed straight for the email, and learned that I was accepted into this year's Bethesda Row Arts Festival. So at the end of a very long day, I collapsed into bed and drifted off to sleep on a good note.
If you are interested in becoming a Montgomery County Election Judge, now that you've gotten an honest account of my experiences, visit http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections for all the info. The General Election is coming up in November, and they are constantly recruiting. Maybe now that you know it can be an 18 hour day, and that public school buildings are pretty gross, you will be more prepared than me. Again, it was a remarkably rewarding experience despite these things.