I have worked as an “election inspector” at local polling places a number of times in the past decades. In 2020 I worked in the absentee precinct at my local city hall, where we count all the absentee ballots on election day. Unlike at other precincts, we are sequestered all day without cell phones or any internet access to prevent any early reporting of results. We are even required to go to the bathroom with another person.
In 2020, I worked in a room with only one other person that was adjacent to a large room with dozens of other people. This year, as I filed into the large auditorium where we would be processing ballots on August 2, I saw a room of 40 plus people seated at tables of four each. The first table I came to had a woman in a blouse covered with elephants. She was talking to her friend who was also seated there. I picked an adjacent empty table and sat down. I ended up working closely with the elephant shirt woman all day. For the record: I did not wear a shirt covered in donkeys or any other political symbols. I also did not talk politics at all. This was not true for others that day!
The absentee precinct is not open to the public — in fact they now have the main entrance door, which is glass, obscured by a large fabric drape and for security reasons we were not allowed to use that door throughout the day to use the restroom, etc. The city clerk was obviously trying to forestall the craziness that was observed in 2020 as GOP extremists watched poll workers through the glass in cities like Detroit and screamed, demanded entrance and protested violently.
Fortunately, we had none of that in my city hall for this primary election. If The Former Guy runs again in 2024 I’m guessing that will occur again.
The day proceeded as it always does, with tedious removal of ballot sleeves, then ballots, and repetitive counting of each set of 10 ballots to make sure they conform to the original count done by the clerk’s staff. Our city appears to follow very rigorous procedures to ensure election protocol and security and everything was orderly. My complaints about the day were only with my fellow poll workers, not with the city staff, who acted professionally.
The issues started small, such as with the elephant shirt, and I ignored them. One of my duties was to help “duplicate” ballots that were damaged in the mail or photocopies of ballots mailed in from overseas. This is done with one Democrat and one Republican so that no shenanigans can occur. The Republican was always a “table captain” helping run the precinct and I would fill out the new ballot. Each of these women would huff and puff about the “unpronounceable” names on the Democratic side of the ballot, mangling them unmercifully and unrepentantly. Even a simple name such as Padma Kuppa would be unrecognizable when they got done with it. A name like Huwaida Arraff is clearly pronounced just as it is spelled. I initially chalked it up to senior citizens from the midwest who are very narrow in their world exposure. But after the tenth time of them STILL being unable to read these names despite me repeating the name back to them to confirm the correct vote, my frustration began to flare.
If that was the worst of it, my long, tedious day counting ballots would have been uneventful. But there’s more.
We had three ballots arrive in the envelopes from our city, but ballots from another city. The clerk’s staff said this had never happened before. My immediate thought was that the printer probably accidentally included some incorrect ballots and the staff didn’t notice them when stuffing the ballots into the secrecy sleeves when mailing them out. The voters also probably didn’t notice that they were incorrect, because most only are informed about races at the top of the ticket — governor in this year’s case. I will note that the city on these ballots was a near suburb of Detroit that has a large African American and low-income population. Instead of considering a reasonable cause, the GOP election workers immediately became incensed. Their brains went right away to racist insinuations and they made up conspiracy theories: “Oh, they are from X city… Of course they are!! More election fraud, just like before. If there are 3 ballots there are probably 300. How did they get ahold of our envelopes and mail them here without some help?”
Whenever this conversation came up during the day, I tried to calmly suggest the likelihood that it was a simple error. I’d like to point out that the GOP workers never expressed concern that three voters were denied their legitimate right to vote because of this error. They were only suspicious that it was an organized plot and they assumed it was against the GOP — even though they had no proof of anything untoward.
At lunch, several people then brought up a litany of election “fraud” myths from the 2020 election. One man insisted that his daughter was in Detroit watching what he called “a vote recount” after the 2020 election that “they” stopped after 50,000 ballots were counted. He also claimed that his daughter watched election workers on Google Earth checking the location of voters and seeing that an address was a vacant lot or an abandoned house and approving the ballot anyway. I have worked numerous elections and have never heard of or witnessed election workers during a ballot count checking on the legitimacy of addresses in this way and I’m sure every city and county clerk in Michigan will confirm that this is complete nonsense. Registered voters are processed and approved before ballots are sent out, not when they are returned. He also claimed dead people voted in Detroit, another lie that Trump and other GOP keep repeating without proof.
I can find no reporting of Detroit votes being “recounted” in 2020, as Trump lost his court challenges to do so. I also found no reporting that this mythical recount was stopped prematurely. This extensive Politico article summarizes much of the Detroit-focused lunacy of Trump voters following the 2020 election. Trump lost in Michigan by 154,000 votes — a large enough margin that it would have taken a massive effort to swing an election by that margin.
But these facts held no sway with this MAGA cult member. He kept insisting that there was fraud in Detroit, despite my pointing out that Trump never proved any fraud. As the Politico article notes, Detroit is a predictable straw man for GOP to accuse: “‘This was all so predictable,’ said Josh Venable, who ran Election Day operations for the Michigan GOP during five different cycles. ‘Detroit has been the boogeyman for Republicans since before I was born. It’s always been the white suburbs vs. Detroit, the white west side of the state vs. Detroit. There’s always this rallying cry from Republicans—‘We win everywhere else, but lose Wayne County’—that creates paranoia. I still remember hearing, back on my first campaign in 2002, that Wayne County always releases its votes last so that Detroit can see how many votes Democrats need to win the state. That’s what a lot of Republicans here believe.’”
After listening for a few minutes of this man’s patently false claims, I mentioned that a poll worker talking about election fraud IN THE CITY CLERK’S OFFICE ON ELECTION DAY might be inappropriate. There were no members of the public present to my knowledge, but city clerk staff and other city workers present, along with other poll workers. I got up and walked away to finish my lunch elsewhere, prompting the man to self-righteously blare, “Of course she’s walking away,” as if I was not willing to stand by my facts, instead of just trying to manage my frustration and de-escalate a situation. I just smiled to myself.
Of course, these people who were still parroting Trump’s election fraud lies failed to see the irony that they were election inspectors and had front row seats to see if there was any election misbehavior in our city — and there was none.
But the stories don’t end there! As we neared the end of our long day, an adjacent table of five people began loudly talking very negatively about Democrats. Several city clerk staffers were working at the table immediately next to this group, but that did not stifle the Trumpers at all. I walked away at first and tried to ignore the situation. But they were loud enough that I could hear them from 20 feet away, and people throughout the crowded auditorium could certainly hear them as well. In self-satisfied tones, they ranted about how Joe Biden was “destroying the country” and piled on very negative comments about Nancy Pelosi, a favorite GOP punching bag. I waited patiently to see if they would cease. I even tried to approach the city staff to complain, but they were deep into paperwork to try to close out the tabulations for the day and I was reluctant to interrupt them.
But the group didn’t stop, even when I walked up to them and stood listening. So I finally spoke up very strongly saying their behavior was inappropriate for an election precinct. Not everyone here were GOP party die-hards and that they needed to stop immediately. They were shocked that I would say anything and gave me some pushback, but I stood my ground. I’d have been happy to discuss this situation with the city staff, because I’m sure they would have supported me. A few minutes later the deputy clerk did approach me and check on how I was feeling. I don’t know if they ever disciplined self-important GOP workers.
Partisan talk is not appropriate at polling places for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is intimidation of voters — and even though I wasn’t voting, I felt intimidated. Let’s be clear that poll workers and voters are not even allowed to wear political pins, clothing or anything indicating support of an issue or candidate into the polls. Why would they be allowed to talk loudly and openly in support of one party and against another? It makes me wonder if this type of conversation is going on at polling places where the public is present.
I should not have been surprised by this type of blatant rule violation, because it appears to be a pervasive character flaw of Republicans today. They have been empowered by Trump’s egregious self-righteousness and sense of entitlement to believe they, too, are above the law. These people clearly felt they had every right to wear inappropriate clothing and loudly violate rules and norms. They are so caught up in the self-reinforcing propaganda bubble of the far-right that they have come to believe that everyone believes as they do. Of course, those who have doubts about their beliefs (because those beliefs are based on lies) often have to double down and repeat their positions loudly and frequently to reassure themselves that they are correct. Their poor shame tolerance makes it nearly impossible for them to admit they are wrong about anything and gives them strong motivation to belittle those who feel differently.
Because of the self-involved cocoon they inhabit, they have no awareness of others, and no apparent empathy or kindness. These people had no concern that I might have differing views and might be offended or intimidated. In fact, this was probably exactly their intention. I got the sense that they were pontificating and hoping that if there were Democrats or independents nearby that they would be cowed.
So during my 15 plus hours sequestered with 40 people, it appears that about 10 of them made it very clear they did not have any acceptance of Democrats. Their hatred was obvious in every eye roll and in outright confrontations. It was a microcosm of today’s political climate where one party feels no hesitation about speaking their extremist views loudly and proudly, and expects others to cower and bite their tongue. I attempted not to engage in comments on politics, even when the elephant shirt woman said someone wrote in “None of the Above” instead of voting for one of the five GOP gubernatorial candidates. I could have easily said: “Yeah, each of them is trying to outdo each other in the lunatic and extremist categories.” But I didn’t!
It reminded me of a Washington Post article from 7/25/22, which stated: “Just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics (IOP) published new poll: Americans see politics as the most important trigger for whether to pursue a friendship with a new acquaintance. It’s far more disconcerting that most Americans feel like the government is rigged against them and that more than a quarter speculate that armed opposition to the government may soon become necessary. three-quarters of both Republicans and Democrats saw members of the other party as bullies. Similar percentages from each party viewed the opposite party as dishonest and advocating “disinformation.”
Ideally, a day of civic voluntarism as a poll worker might have been a chance to meet people from my hometown and form friendships across the partisan divide. Instead, I left feeling as if I would not have wanted to be friends with these people who had such unlikable personalities and made no effort to consider the needs of others or even just follow some minimal rules of mutual respect.
The fact that they might be creating and worsening divisiveness in our town and in our country was of no concern to them and might even have been their intention.