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Confessions Of A First Time Poll Worker

August 6
5:05 am: I was up before my alarm at 5:10 am, which is highly unusual given that I’m more of a night owl than early bird. But I didn’t want to be late to my first assignment as a poll worker for the TN Open Primary election. I had packed my lunch the night before, and I had laid out my clothes, but I also had a strong martini and wine with dinner which is a mistake I won’t make again.

6 am: So, with a slight headache, I pulled up at the polling location right on time. I made my way inside as experienced poll workers were already busy setting up voting stations. I noticed the plexiglass dividers set up on the tables, boxes of masks, gowns, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer that were available for our use. Safety precautions - check! No one seemed to be in charge just yet, so I made my way to the break room in search of coffee where I met a firecracker named Gayle who was decked out in red, white and blue from head to toe. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had just met a real-life superhero. Her energy never flagged, her enthusiasm was through the roof, and she knew more about the election day process than most mere mortals. And, she provided one of the most essential items of the day, coffee. Gayle had already worked 11 days of early voting polling and would now clock in a 12+ hour day at today’s primary. I guessed that she was some 20 years older than me, but my fortitude and endurance would pale in comparison to hers. As an entertainment publicist and executive, I’ve worked countless red carpets and award shows. I know what it’s like to stand on your feet all day (and most of the night), troubleshoot on the spot, and take charge of any situation that arises. But I had no idea what I was in for at the polls. My biggest (and perhaps only) criticism of the morning was that no one person was in charge of briefing first-time workers. We had each taken a short, online training course as in-person courses had been cancelled due to COVID, but that was it. Two of my fellow registrars were also new, and we could have benefitted from some structured, last minute instructions.

6:55 am: We sat down at our computer monitors, straightened our masks and hoped for the best.

7 am: Voters began filing in, and everyone was placed six feet apart. I will freely admit to some operator errors (my own) in trying to process my first few voters, but Gayle soon set me straight. We were off to the races - until we weren’t.

7:30 am: Crickets. The steady flow of voters soon came to a halt and I reminded myself that this was going to be a very long day. In fact, a wise friend of mine had told me that this was going to be longest day of my life – and she was right. The pace was cyclical – busy, somewhat busy, nothing, repeat. Early voting and absentee ballot voting had been up significantly which most certainly had an effect on the number of voters showing up on election day. We had no physical contact with anyone – people arrived, put their ID in the provided
plastic tray, we took the tray and then typed in their info. Voters used sanitized pens to sign their documents and then used the same pen as a stylus at the computerized voting machines to select their choices. We periodically sanitized the trays and our desks during slower periods. We loudly celebrated first-time voters and accepted the thanks from many for ‘our service.’ I started to wonder why more people, particularly younger people, don’t volunteer to be poll workers (but I’ve figured it out since, more on that later). My fellow worker, Alice, who sat to my right had just graduated college. We need more people like her! After all, you do get paid and you get to actively participate in one of the greatest responsibilities as an American citizen – the right to vote. During lulls, Alice and I discussed the need for a little atmosphere at the polling locations. Maybe some music (scratch the music – none of us would probably agree on what we liked); dramatic lighting; a covered archway (with a curtain or beads!) that people would go under when it was their turn to cast their ballot; creative floor stickers
with humorous banter that kept people properly spaced out; maybe a confetti cannon every so often for first time voters, you know, ‘zhuzh’ it up a bit (to quote Alice). Alright, back to work. If I told you that time flew by, I’d be telling a bold-faced lie. Sitting in a chair for several
hours straight is excruciating.

11:30 am: I was the first person to take a lunch break, and I had been hungry for over an hour. I did bring some snacks, but I was more than ready for lunch. I ate in the break room; I might have had some cheese and crackers that Gayle brought; and I might have had some sweets she brought from the Amish Market earlier. As I mentioned, Gayle has got it going on. I went for a quick walk around outside of the facility while I spoke to my business partner on the phone, then I went back at my station.

Noon: The lunch crowd picked up a bit, as each of us took our short breaks. The day dragged on with no real hiccups or problems. It was during the next 7 hours I was reminded what a giant commitment a 12-hour day is. Many “would be” volunteers have kids to take care of, even more so now that some schools have adopted virtual learning. Others don’t have the luxury of taking a full day off, not to mention, this job takes stamina!

6 pm: Suddenly our computers, which had run well for the entire day, became extremely slow. Thankfully this only lasted for about 10-15 minutes and everyone was quite patient about the process taking just a bit longer. One hour to go.

7 pm: QUITTIN’ TIME! We closed those doors at 7 pm sharp and started breaking down the set-up. By 7:30 pm, I had escaped to my car and was well on my way home, unaware of the pain and fatigue that was soon to set in.

August 7
8 am: MY BODY IS WRECKED! I had no idea that sitting in a chair for that long would affect me like this – my headache is roaring, my back is tweaked, my hips are tight and I’m wearing my shoulders like earrings. And here’s the kicker – I thought I was in relatively decent shape! 
Several studies have confirmed that sitting for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity has a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. I believe it. Granted, I did it for ONE DAY – but man, I was still hurting. Would I do it again? Absolutely. 

Lisa Chader is a 15-year Brentwood resident and is the Chief Communications Officer of The Change Agent·cy.
 

Visit https://sos.tn.gov/elections to:
 Register to vote. The deadline to register online to vote is Monday, October 5, 2020.
 Check your voter registration status to make sure it’s correct.
 Register to become a poll worker.
 Request an absentee ballot.
 Confirm your local polling location in advance.
 

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