Home Youth activism Reviews | My experience as a scrutineer

Reviews | My experience as a scrutineer


The latest midterm election is a shining example of youth participation in democracy with the second highest turnout for young voters over the past 30 years. Not only did I vote, but I also decided to register and be a poll worker in Scott Township — a suburb of Pittsburgh — on election day.

Although the $170 salary appealed to me as a broke college student, the chance to help run an important election was more significant. Poll workers tend to be citizens above the the age of 60, so it is very relevant to obtain a greater participation of young people in the elections of our country. Youth activism in elections is always low, either because they are too busy or because they have a jaded attitude towards politics.

Prior to election day, there was a training session to familiarize yourself with everything that would happen during the day itself. During the training, Allegheny County officials covered the few general tasks that would need to be done during the day, as well as setting up and shutting down each machine that creates or compiles ballots.

On the morning of the elections, I woke up at 5 a.m. to go to my polling station. The ward, Scott Ward 4 District 1, is not where I am registered – and so I had never voted before – but was not far from home. Before the polling stations opened at 7 a.m., certain things had to be done: setting up the tables and dividers for the vote and switching on the machines.

Once the polls opened, I and the few other poll workers in that constituency began our assigned jobs. I worked all day on the poll book, which contains a record of every voter registered in the precinct, their party registration, and some personal information about their identity. My job was just to ask people their names as they came in, find them in the book and have them sign next to their names to verify who they were, and deal with any issues that arose along the way – such as ID verification, verification -confirm inactive voters and retrieve unused ones postal ballots.

This job was the one I wanted all along because it gave me the most one-on-one time with each individual voter who entered the polling station. Throughout the day, it became clear to me how powerful it was to be around so many different people who cared as much as I did about the state of our country, regardless of their political affiliation. Voting for a midterm isn’t usually a priority for many people, but our constituency turn out ended up around 75%, and I had the chance to meet 375 different voters in my neighborhood.

In a quick conversation of a minute or two with each voter, you don’t learn much about them beyond surface details. The most important thing I learned, however, is that you really can’t generalize party affiliation by appearance. However demography are important measures for policy alignment, it is obviously not 100% accurate. Some younger voters were registered Republicans, some older voters were registered Democrats, many women were registered Republicans, and many blue-collar men were registered Democrats.

These short conversations allowed the humanity of each voter to shine through. For me, it was so easy to generalize about the other side, but when I was presented with this situation, I started to break down my own biases. Republicans and Democrats become people, nothing more, nothing less.

Polling stations are also precisely staffed with members of both parties, which means that no matter how you feel, you have to work with someone from the opposing party. Since everyone was there for the same reason, it was easy to find common ground and avoid talking explicitly about politics. We were all excited to see the turnout slowly increase, to talk about the logistics of the polling station, how every functional part was vital, and to learn about each other’s lives. As the youngest in the room and a student, the older election officials were very enthusiastic and supportive, learning about my academic background and my plans for the future.

The worst times of the day were when we had to send voters home, usually because of a mail-in ballot issue. If they requested an absentee ballot, but never used it—or did not receive it from the county office—they had to deliver that ballot to the polling place in order to vote in person. Many people claimed that they had never received their mail-in ballot by mail, so they either had to leave or vote on a provisional ballot – which likely wouldn’t be counted due to their mail-in request. Other times we’ve had to turn away first-time voters because they didn’t bring valid ID.

At the end of the day, we had to compile the results by printing out what the voting machine had counted throughout the day. Here, my already preconceived ideas about how difficult it would be to rig an election have been maintained. There are far too many checks and balances, at least in Pennsylvania, to make changing the results of an election easy. We registered the voters, recorded their names twice and counted them, matching that number to the ballots counted on the machine. We checked for discrepancies about once an hour, making sure that each ballot – although anonymous – had a name associated with it. These voting machinesalso, were in no way connected to the Internet, which made them impossible to modify via an outside source.

Once the Elections Judge cleared me to leave around 9 p.m., I felt a sense of accomplishment to be part of something much bigger than myself. I had seen the results coming out of the machine and formed a general idea of ​​how the Pennsylvania election was going to go. People showed up, all supporting the same cause. More young people should be poll workers in the future.

Paul Beer writes about political affairs and reads too many album reviews. Write him back (or send him music recommendations) at [email protected]