Reflections from a Poll Greeter

Observations from the Front Lines During Primaries

The First Votes are In

Primary season is upon us, about wrapped up, actually. I think what I saw in working at the polls for a few days in my neighborhood likely reflects what others saw in many other areas. For the most part, more good news than bad, which was something of a pleasant surprise. Let’s hope the good things noted below carry through to the general election.

Primaries are important for many reasons, but they have unique characteristics that do not always carry forward to the general election, so take any trends or observations from this Spring with a grain of salt when thinking ahead to November. This is the case primarily because turnout in primaries is depressingly low. The more dedicated voters tend to turn out; not so many of the general public, so results can be skewed.

For example, my own county had one of the highest turnouts in the state among the large counties. We had a whopping 26% registered voter turnout – which was better than the last mid terms election. Hard to believe with all that is going on and all that is at stake only about 1 in 4 voters thought it was worth voting. Does not reflect well on us as a citizenry.

Running the Gauntlet

Many of us who volunteer to stand outside polls passing out literature, sample ballots, and encouragement to voters jokingly refer to our often long line of volunteers as “running the gauntlet.” Voters sometimes feel they have to work their way past that line, which some find onerous., although most are polite and many thank the volunteers from all sides for caring enough to stand out in the sun for 2-3 hours at a time. Nice to hear such thanks – much appreciated.

Some voters seem really intimidated by the volunteer line and go through great twists and turns in their routes to the polling station to avoid the gauntlet. It is sometimes humorous to watch their machinations and dedicated no eye contact process to bypass the line. Many respond to the line by saying something like “I know who I am voting for.” Many of those do pause when the volunteer says something like, “Really? Know who you are voting for on the District Court and the Water Commission?”

In fact, most people know the big name tickets but not everyone else on what is often a long ballot. That is unfortunate, since many of those “obscure” offices affect our lives in important ways. Take some time, folks, and study the candidates. Make an informed choice, please.

Candidates: Their Time, Energy, and Engagement

At one point on a busy Saturday morning at the polling place, I was in a long line of about eight people reaching out to voters. I realized that for a while there I was the only one in the line who was not a candidate. Word was out we had a busy polling spot and the candidates appeared.

You have to salute those who do this candidate work. Their hours are mercilessly long during the campaign, they are exposed to bad weather, rude voters (rare), uninformed voters (not rare), and a real drain on their own treasurer and energy. Hats off to them, even to some I would not vote for, but who are doing what they think is right.

There are a few that do not deserve any praise. Madison Cawthorn comes to mind – thankfully our District voters put him out to pasture. That was closer than it should have been, and the guy who won that primary is not much better, but at least he will not embarrass our area daily, as did his predecessor.

And we had one of those weird constitutional sheriff candidates running as a Democrat, because he was told they already had plenty of Republican candidates for sheriff, so he became a Pretend Democrat. Happily. he lost, and I anticipate the winning Republican candidate will lose in the Fall.

Inside the Polls: Workers and Issues

We are blessed here to have an outstanding Board of Elections. I hope you do, too. It would be difficult to overstate their importance. Most voting went smoothly in our primaries. One judge (Yes, a Republican) was found abusing her authority and acting in a partisan manner inside the polling place. Within a very short time, a hearing was held, a ruling made, and she was fired, not to serve again as a judge.

This is, in my observation, a pretty rare problem. By and large, those who work inside the polls are dedicated, helpful, cheerful people. They want you to vote. You have no idea and no hint of how they voted, and that is as it should be. Locally, we did have some shortages of poll workers in this cycle, with many last minute cancellations by volunteers. Speculation is that this may have been due to lingering COVID concerns among a volunteer population that contains a very high percentage of senior citizens.

Voter Turnout

As noted earlier, numbers were low in an absolute sense, compared to a general election, but high for a primary in many places around the country. Of special note was Georgia. In spite of every effort by the governor and the legislature, voters got organized and came out in huge record numbers. They would not be denied. They are an inspiration to the rest of us. When you think of what people have done and sacrificed to secure the right to vote, you wonder how anyone could take that right for granted.

The next indicator I am watching is how many provisional ballots were there around the country and how many of those were counted in the end. This will be a major factor in the general election, and so bears watching.

What Does All This Mean for November?

I have no clue. So many variables are out there, it is unlikely that we can sort them out in any useful predictions.

One thing that will be interesting to watch is the fate of some of the Trump zealots and extremists who won primaries for important state offices, like governor, secretary of state, and election commissioner. Will voters at large see the danger of such people and reject them. One hopes. Time will tell.

             Bill Clontz

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