First-time precinct clerk learns a thing or two

It's one thing to avidly observe the election process, which I've done while working in newspapers. It's another thing to participate materially.

On Super Tuesday, I got to spend 16 hours as a junior baby precinct clerk in Redding, Calif., with a team of three others (old hands, thank God), setting up, serving the voters, breaking things down, reporting back. What
an interesting experience, and extremely enjoyable.

Some thoughts from the day...

1. The process is layered, complex and tricky. It's full of things I never thought about. It relies completely on people reading and following instructions. The entire structure is built of details designed to protect the the election not just from tampering but also from ordinary human error. In other words, to protect us from ourselves.

2. There's an enormous amount of multiple cross-checking of numbers, names, signatures, seals; double sign-offs on inspection tasks; and a formalized backup plan for every contingency.

3. We had to have training, and we had to do things right. We did tasks in pairs as a safety precaution. We were free to disagree about procedural steps. A conflict signaled a chance to clarify instructions all the way down the line.

4. At training a couple of weeks ago, we were a wide-ranging cross-section of the community. And, yes, there's a (fill in the blank) in every crowd.

5. At the polling site, never was heard a political word. Voters and workers alike respected the neutrality rule.

6. Someone was always immediately available to help in person or by phone at election headquarters.

7. This was a paper ballot election. Many voters were surprised, even though it was reported repeatedly for months. Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling says every election in the last eight elections have been conducted with different rules from before. She could have said "and get used to it" during training, but she politely didn't. It's not always up to her.

8. Voters were engaged in the process, but understandably some didn't know all the details or understand why things work they way they do. We were expected to know the answers or find out quickly.

9. Some questions perhaps have no logical answer. I never did understand why the Republican Party closed its ballot to non-Republican voters. (I understand they can do that, I just don't get why they would turn down votes. Anybody? Someone said "for party purity." Wha?)

10. We will be paid a $100 stipend each, $125 for bosses (inspectors). Some of us didn't know that.
Me: "$...?...!!!... :)" Nobody's in it for the money.

11. Focusing intently on brand-new tasks for 16 hours in a row requires stamina, commitment, teamwork, patience and faith. I forgot to drink anything for several hours. I think my eyelids stuck together.

12. We took our sworn responsibility seriously. But we had fun and tried to make the day fun for voters, too.

13. Voters showed an amazing amount of trust in us and thanked us for working. No, thank YOU for voting. Really.

14. People brought us great food. Thanks to Linda Troop, for the pasta fagioli soup, bread, and brownies, and
Doni Greenberg for the carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

15. Our precinct wrapped up about 9:45. If that was average for all 147 precincts, then the elections bureau, which posted its last update about midnight, took only about two hours to complete the initial count. UPDATE: Turnout was 53 percent of registered voters -- 48,038 out of 89,931.

16. It's staggering to think of hundreds of thousands of people doing this same labor-intensive event all across the country on the same day and accurately revealing the voters' intent as early as the next day. How does the system not collapse under the weight of its own complexity? I don't know. Somehow, it works every time.

17. I have new and deeper respect for the process, the people, and the exhaustive planning and preparation. Thanks to those who patiently taught and encouraged me, Laura Tessier, Judy Justus and Christine Uharriett. And thanks (again), Cathy Darling and staff, who did all that advance work and trained us to do ours. Good show.

Volunteer to be a precinct worker!
If you're interested, call the Shasta County Elections Department at 225-5730.


  1. Hey K.,

    My roomie was also heavily involved in the voting process on Super-Dooper-Tuesday. You might be interested to hear his take on things. Have a fake call-waiting beep ready, though, cause he'll talk your ear off, if given the chance. I know. I have only one ear left, now.

  2. Greg, I'd love to hear someone else's take on the precinct process. Thanks for letting me know.

  3. And the other question would be, why can't we just vote? I believe the Constitution of the United States gives me the right to vote (if I'm not a felon) when I turn 18 (OK, so I'm WAY past that). How is it that the State of California can say, "Oh, sure, you can vote in this state, but ONLY if you associate or affiliate yourself with a political party.....what the heck (being nice) is up with that?!? Seems unconstitutional to me......