A full-day shift means that you show up at 6 AM, an hour before the polls open, to get set up. Since I was nearby, and since I know that parking in that area is scarce, I left my car home and walked the eight blocks from my home to the school, enjoying the cool pre-dawn and the lightening of the sky for what proved to be a clear and lovely day. I got to the building just at six, as the custodian opened up for the poll workers.
The City of Milwaukee uses optically read paper ballots, a system which works quite well so far as I have seen, has a good audit trail, and has paper ballots for backup and verification. Setup was initially a little tense, as 6:30 approached and the Chief Inspector, who had the keys to unlock the voting machine had not arrived. The deputy chief called the Election Commission help number, and a Commission member with a duplicate key showed up with in a couple of minutes. The Chief Inspector got there immediately after, and setup was finished in good time for her to declare the polls open promptly at 7 AM as set by law.
As one of the new people, I was assigned to be a “greeter” who routed traffic to the two ward tables, kept people in line for the registrars, answered questions, and rode herd on any independent election observers who showed up. We had two observers during the course of the day. The first, a young lawyer volunteering for the Democratic National Committee, showed up just as the polls opened and remained there for the entire day. He was equipped with extensive notes on voting law and resources as well as a Blackberry, and was available to provide some extra assistance for voters with problems. Another observer, identifying himself as being with the “GOP,” showed up at 4 PM and stayed until about 5:45 PM when he left. The expected evening rush never materialized, but a quick check showed us that by 6PM 70% of the number of preregistered voters had voted, not counting those who might have voted early or absentee, so it was understandable there was no late crowd. We overheard voters leaving the polls phoning friends to urge them to come down and vote, as there were no long lines of the type seen out of state on television.
Voting started off with a bang, with the first voter in line having gotten there shortly after we ourselves did. By opening time, the line was out the door to the street. We got things moving briskly, and by 8 AM had cleared the line out and thereafter dealt with the voters as they came. After that, things were slow, but steady. It was not until 7:20 PM that there were not voters in the polling place—prior to that, there were always at least one present. Thanks to having ample staff, at peak times we had as many as six people working to register “new voters”, which meant that, even with being registered, after the first rush, no one took more than fifteen minutes to vote, and most people far less than that. Many of the registrations were in fact address changes or name changes, but more than half of the three hundred registrations on site were actually people voting for the first time.
Over the course of the day, we took more than 1500 votes, which amounted to about a 75% turnout for the district. People were eager to vote, and even many of those who were pre-registered showed up with ID in hand. We had to turn away only a very few people, those being persons who had no proof of residence at all. We also redirected at least a hundred people who came to the wrong polling place, giving them directions to the correct locations.
My district on the near south side of Milwaukee is largely white, but I was pleased to discover how actually diverse it is. There were a good number of Hispanic people, African Americans, and Asians represented. Voters ranged from the just-old-enough to the very old; long-time voters, and immigrants just become citizens and wonderfully pleased to be exercising their franchise for the first time. I saw young couples coming in to register together with their babe in arms, and wondered to what extent they would be voting with their child’s future in mind.
The vast majority of people we saw were cheerful, pleasant, and enthusiastic about voting. I had to wonder later if the few stony faces I saw later in the evening on people I would characterize as “likely McCain voters” meant that they had heard some early returns--.
Out district went for Obama by more than ten percent in the aggregate of the two wards. Since it is generally considered a “safe” Democratic district, that wasn’t surprising, but some were surprised it was that close.
During the day, I got to register several new voters, helped an illiterate woman vote for the first time, and generally smooth along the voting process. I “made my mark” as well, affixing my signature on the official reports, machine printouts, and the sealed ballot bags, all of which as to be done once the polls are closed by as many of the workers as possible. The polls closed promptly at 8 PM, and the site was broken down, paperwork done, and the ballots secured by 8:30 PM. The November night was warm and clear as I strolled home through Jackson Park, weary but pleased by my day’s work