Becoming a NY Election Inspector

My wife and I felt we needed to do more than just vote in the upcoming 2020 election, given all the hubbub and uncertainty surrounding it. But do what, exactly? Searching for alternatives, we didn’t see ourselves as canvassers for either candidate. Nor did we think in grandiose terms as “guardians of democracy” as some election recruitment ads proclaim. However, insurers of a fair and honest process seemed more of a fit. So, we volunteered to become election inspectors in Dutchess County, NY.

Though we both had been volunteer delegates for political candidates in Minnesota, neither of us had worked in the election process itself. Let me say up front, we were in for a shock. Upon entering the ballroom of the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel for our training session, we received a 25-page handbook and a 30-page Poll Pad training guide. We exchanged concerned glances: becoming a poll would be a lot more complex than sitting behind a table and checking names and addresses on a paper tablet.

Here, in no particular ranking, are some other realizations gained over the next two hours:

  • Long hours–polls open at 6 a.m. in New York state and close at 9 p.m. on election day. Inspectors need to be at their polling station an hour before to open up and ready the area for voters, tear everything down afterwards, and deliver the ballots to district headquarters.
  • Rigid procedures–to guarantee the fairness and honesty of the election, inspectors must follow a rigorous protocol in setting up equipment, providing information, and assuring accuracy of voter identification and qualifications.
  • New software–much of the training guide involves setting up and operating Knowink, the software that matches the name and address of every registered voter in each district with those who wish to vote the day of election. Its tally must match the paper tally at the end of the evening and be transported to district headquarters with the ballots.
  • Pop quiz–after imparting each step in the procedure, the mentors–one Republican and one Democrat–asked a question of the 30 or so people in attendance relevant to the material just covered. Though easy, the questions’ cumulative effect reinforced the impartial solemnity and seriousness of the election process.
  • Inspector backgrounds–some potential inspectors (like us) had little or no experience, others had done the job numerous times. One gentleman promised to play a dual role as both inspector and Republican overseer. While appearing somewhat dubious at first, procedures were in place to guarantee little or no overlapping of roles which might compromise the impartiality of the vote.

You can see from our first exposure to the process that the state of New York has a complex and well-documented set of procedures to guarantee the election process. Each state is responsible for setting up and running elections both state and national. Obviously, their practices and procedures may differ from our state’s. For example, New York state employs I-pad technology to facilitate and qualitize the voting process. Does yours?

Though our state needs inspectors and we’ve received training, there’s a chance we may not operate in our home district or even be chosen to participate. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you informed of our exploits through November 3rd (and beyond, if necessary). Have any of you participated as an election inspector on either the local, state, or national level? What was your experience? How was it the same, how did it differ?

Tell me about your experience in the Comments/Reply section below.

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