Elections are messy, but patterns emerge. Elections have consequences, but people learn. Elections make news, but do we all know how they work? I did not and thus decided to learn. I served as a sworn-in Election Clerk in the State of Delaware this week to collect first-hand experiences. I wanted to decide for myself rather than just “believe” or “dismiss” abundant disinformation propagated by Russian and American troll farms on social media. I wanted to answer for myself, if the American election system is safe, fair, and secure. My answer is a resounding yes for New Castle County, Delaware.
Any registered voter can apply to serve at a polling station as an Election Clerk, Judge, or Inspector:
The State of Delaware needs more than 4,500 registered voters to work in polling places for the General Election. This is a unique opportunity to serve your community by participating in the electoral process!https://elections.delaware.gov/information/electionofficers.shtml
Pay comes to about $10 per hour for a 19 hour commitment. Students enrolled at a university in Delaware and local High School students older than 16 can apply as well. Within a week of mailing my application I was assigned a date and location for both a 4-hour training session and an election. I worried about the many, usually elderly election workers during our current Covid-19 pandemic. I took a calculated risk, but our democratic system by the People for the People requires the People to actually run the elections. Random citizens working the polls on Election Day are one check on State Governments who organize the elections.
Election Day started at 6 am to set-up computers, machines, and voter information in the gym of a local Elementary School. The first voter appeared at 7 am sharp while the last voter left shortly after 8pm. I left the school at 9 pm after votes were tallied, results were signed by each of poll workers and posted at the school. Multiple signed copies of votes and results were delivered by different people to different officials and offices. This includes both electronic and paper copies of each vote. I was home at 9:15 pm, exhausted, sore, and tired. A Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout helped me to end the day happy, proud, content, and with many stories to share.
The best part was a wonderful, random, fun, and most diverse group of 11 poll workers. We ranged in age from 21 to 75 (or so), almost evenly split male/female, black/white, college/non-college, etc. and all with a refreshing sense of humor and purpose. One of us was a pastor, a postal worker, a home-maker, two professors, a school psychologist, a teacher, and we had at least three grand-parents. About 540 people came in to vote, only one person tried (and failed) to cheat by voting twice. He tried to vote in-person after he had mailed-in his absentee ballot which the State received already. He was politely told to leave which he did quietly. Perhaps he just tried to test the system, or he just forgot that he mailed his ballot, or he just listened to a paranoid and ignorant politician who told people to vote early by mail and then try to vote again in person. Either way, nobody voted twice.
We only had 3-4 people who tried to violate State Electioneering Laws (Del. Code Ann. tit. 15, §4942(a); (d)) by displaying partisan buttons, masks, hats, or t-shirts inside the polling place. This is illegal in Delaware and elsewhere; so please do not bring Biden/Harris or Trump/Pence buttons or similar partisan apparel or clothing to the the polling place. The “Electioneering” link is from the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State. Interestingly, all three “electioneers” were angry, white, male, 45-60 years old, and affiliated with the same party. They represented less than 2% of that party, but the three men succeeded in causing drama, emotional turmoil, and disruptions both inside the polling place and afterwards. I will fight for them to express their views as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but their freedom of speech is limited inside the 50 feet diameter of the polling place during the 13 hours that people vote there. Several U.S. Supreme Court decisions back this view.
Only one person did not wear a mask, but this was my fault. He entered with a mask that carried in large letters a partisan political statement not allowed inside the polling place. When called on this by an Election Clerk he got angry and started to argue, but he was happy when I told him that he did not have to wear as mask that he promptly took off. [It was my mistake to tell him that not wearing a mask does not disqualify him from voting.] I asked to handle this person and borrowed the crutches of our oldest poll worker (with her permission) to use as a “teaching prop” of the 6 feet distance that I needed. He co-operated nicely and I thanked him for his important participation in an important process.
A more positive experience for me was to see how diverse my local community is. People of all colors, genders, ages, handicaps (both physical and mental) gave me a new perspective on who lives in the same town with me. I noticed an especially happy and celebratory atmosphere of the many black women of all ages who often came with their teenage sons and daughters to vote also. Many couples had different party affiliations and got along just fine. Kids came, too, as their parents voted and show them how its done. There is Hope and Strength in Diversity.
As a skilled physical scientist and computer geek, I conclude that it is almost impossible to “cheat” on the actual vote both for absentee (often called mail-in) or in-person ballots. I also conclude that Russian and American trolls and politicians try to suppress, manipulate, and disrupt the vote by spreading lies and disinformation to create doubt and confusion. The threat becomes real, if we the People believe and spread such lies. Our voting system has evolved over more than 200 years. It is secure as (a) both electronic and paper copies of each ballot exist; (b) all containers, machines, and access points are sealed, documented, and traced; (c) custody of all materials is transparent with multiple checks; and (d) it is random People like you and me who run the nitty-gritty of elections. The process is transparent and open to anyone willing to spent 4 hours of training and 14-15 hours on Election Day.
P.S.: I had myself tested for Covid-19 this morning. The sore throat and cough probably resulted from talking to more people than I have seen the last 7 months and breathing through a mask for 15 hours straight.