Zero precinct instinct

I took it all for granted when I voted. Everything.

How the fire station or school gym or wherever was transformed into a polling place.

Somebody did it.

How the voting machines were set up so no tampering was possible and my vote was counted accurately, minus any monkey business.

Somebody did it.

How every one of our votes found their way back to Shasta County Elections headquarters for counting so media could report the findings to us ASAP.

Somebody did it.

How all the polling place stuff was set up at 6 a.m. on election day and magically disappeared when polls closed after 8 p.m.

Somebody did it.

Turns out, lots of somebodies did it (do it). In Shasta County, those somebodies are precinct officers led by Cathy Darling who teaches the Poll Worker Training sessions. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and over again like 10, 15, 18 times.

Like the one she taught Thursday evening. I was the only newbie. Class began at 5:30. I arrived at 5:32. Class was well underway. Yikes.

Darling went over the Poll Worker Training Manual with us. And then we broke into groups to practice setting up the voting booth. Unsnap this, connect this, push that, read this, peel this sticker, do not peel that sticker, etc.

All the terms were new. I felt like I was learning a foreign language underwater. I was there because Kelly Brewer, your friend and mine, invited me to join her precinct as a worker in this election. She made being a precinct worker sound like so much fun over at Pink Hollyhock that I said I’d do it.

(Igo doesn’t have its own precinct. Seems we don’t have enough registered voters.) So I agreed to sign up. Come on, how hard could it be? I’ve seen precinct workers. They sit at banquet tables with big ledgers in front of them. They drink coffee, have snacks and seem pretty laid back. Anyone could do that.

I didn’t know jack.

I didn’t know about the myriad checks and balances, like voting booth color-coded stickers and this sticker may be removed but that one won’t and don’t even think about removing one if you’re not supposed to and everything is done by and initialed by two people. Always. The silver stickers? Off limits. You remove a silver sticker and it’s all over but the shoutin’.

Nor did I know jack about card activators, zero proof reports, polling site incident reports or diddley about setting up the voting booths or the fact that even the return route to election headquarters on election night is mapped out. No wiggle room. No improvising. No spontaneity.

By the book. All 55 pages of our Poll Worker Training Manual.

Holy hanging chad, Batman, I had no idea.

Well, I have a much better idea, now that I’ve signed up as a precinct work.

I’m nervous, but kind of excited, too. This is one of the most overtly patriotic things I’ve ever done.

Luckily I’ll be well paid for my election-day work: $100, and a lapel pin that says “Shasta County Primary Election, June 3, 2008,” and an ink pen, and a red-white-and-blue sticker with the words: Election Official, and a place for my name.

I do not want to be the one with a silver sticker stuck to my shoe. I do not want anything to do with polling site incident reports.

I break out in cold sweat at the thought of how to handle a non-partisan voter, or a voter who needs a provisional ballot or a voter who messes up a third ballot, or special needs voter or printer problems or anything out of the ordinary.

Thank goodness more experienced precinct professionals will be there to make sure I don’t screw up.

With any luck, they’ll allow me back in November.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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