The Polls, part 1
A multi-part adventure in working the polls during the wildest election in American history
There’s one moment from the 2020 general election that will stick with me forever. It’s not the day that I’m first offered the job as a polling site manager, and it’s not when Joe Biden is ultimately declared the winner. The moment happens somewhere in the middle.
“What if we have a bumper sticker with our candidate’s name on our car?” a woman asks during poll worker training. “Can we park it at the site, or does that count as electioneering?”
At this point, I’ve already endured over 40 hours of classroom training—breathing my own stagnant breath in full mask and face shield, watching powerpoints, learning new technology, and enduring awkward mock elections that prove just how many of your adult peers wish they were actors. I’ve spent two full days teaching my own team of poll workers. And now, I’m observing another team of site managers train their newly minted poll workers.
“I mean, it’s not a secret who I’m voting for,” the woman announces to the class. “I’m voting for Kanye West.”
This is the memory that’s burned into the soft tissue of my brain—not the anxiety of waiting for swing states to count ballots, or the militias that threatened to haunt the polling sites, or the catharsis of Trump’s eventual defeat. It’s perhaps the perfect summation of this historically batshit election: a woman proudly telling a group of poll workers that she’s voting for Kanye fucking West.
I will take this moment to the grave. Most likely, America will also take this moment to the grave. At this rate, I’m not sure who will make it to the grave first.
On August 28th, I interview to be a polling site manager for the 2020 election. That same day, the number of COVID cases in San Diego county hits 3,083 infections with 682 deaths. The numbers are skyrocketing across the nation, and show no signs of slowing. Widespread pressure to reopen the economy has put right-wingers against public health officials, and every day I see another video of some shithead decrying the safety measures because they want to go to a bar or go to Legoland or whatever.
I wear a brand-new, virginal white face mask to the job interview. It’s an embarrassing little thing that I got for free at the airport months ago, but all my other masks have graphics of skulls or some other ghoul shit. I’m pretty sure a severed head on my face is not the best way to instill confidence in my ability to uphold democracy. However, this one looks like a tighty whitey for my mouth. It’s as constrictive as a new pair of undies, too. In the time it takes me to walk from the parking lot to the front door, I’m already breathing like an asthmatic peeping tom.
A woman meets me in front of the Registrar of Voters, but leads me to another building on the San Diego County Operations campus. Is this the first stranger I’ve made small talk with in the past six months? Possibly, based on how excited my reactions are to her mundane comments. You’ve been working, NON-REMOTE for three weeks now? WOW! She tells me that they’ve already hired something like a hundred site managers and I express unregulated enthusiasm. Wow wow wow!
Two men sign me in, take my temperature and lead me into a nondescript classroom. They tell me to stand at the front while they take seats 20 feet away on opposite sides of the room. I feel like a specimen, a curiosity. I’m certain I’ve had nightmares of this very scenario, although the underwear has never been on my face in these nightmares.
They ask me to present a powerpoint on Super Polls, a topic that’s as alien to me as the electoral college. They give me a script and a clicker and tell me I can take a few minutes to prepare if I want. “No, I’m good,” I say, performance anxiety pumping through my veins. Or maybe it’s delirium caused by the lack of oxygen making it to my brain. Nevertheless, a healthy amount of sweat has soaked through the fabric under my arms. Don’t gesticulate, I think. Don’t raise your arms. I read their script, yelling through the chaste fabric covering my mouth. It’s a sermon of information that doesn’t make sense to me.
1,548 POLLING SITES IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY HAVE BEEN CONSOLIDATED INTO 250, WHICH ARE CALLED SUPER POLLS. EACH SUPER POLL INCORPORATES A NUMBER OF PRECINCTS, ALSO CALLED SEQUENCES. EACH SUPER POLL WILL PROVIDE BALLOTS THAT MATCH SEQUENCES...
“Okay, that’s enough,” they say. Because of their masks, it’s hard to tell just how disappointed they are in my performance. They tell me to sit, and then proceed to the next portion of the interview, which is them yelling questions from a great distance and me yelling back.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST ASSET?
PROBABLY MY PATIENCE!
HAVE YOU EVER MANAGED PEOPLE BEFORE?
I USED TO HAVE A TEAM OF INTERNS WHEN I WAS WEB EDITOR AT A NEWSPAPER!
OH, YOU’RE A WRITER?
WRITING IS MY PASSION!
About halfway through their questions, I realize just how out-of-my-league I am. I have very little managerial experience. What business do I have leading a team to fight democracy? When questioned about ways in which I’ve implemented positive change in my professional career, I ramble on about website upgrades, using dated terminology like “the web.” At one point, I um um um until they repeat the question. The ugly dampness under my arms seeps outward.
DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?
My interview mode turns off. I’m certain that I’ve blown it, and now I just want some straight talk. “Just how different is everything this year?” I ask. I have no contextual basis for this, have never worked a poll, don’t even know what a provisional ballot is, but it’s something I’ve wondered ever since the world shut down in March: how do you hold an election amidst a global pandemic?
The two men look to each other and lean back. It’s like watching them take a deep breath before diving into icy waters. And they begin to tell me.
Fifteen minutes later, after I’ve absorbed their anxieties like a sweaty psychiatrist, one man says: “But it’ll be okay.”
“If anything,” he adds. “It’ll make a good story.”
THE WEEKLY GOODS
We’ve been surrounded by true evil for so long (child separation, racism, fascism) that it’s difficult to remember how cool COOL evil is. Like, you know, the devil and the occult and all that. Thankfully, San Diego’s metal-goth rockers New Skeletal Faces recently unleashed a video for “Leather Funeral,” and it’s so cool even the devil would say “damn.” Shot by San Diego photographer Chad Kelco, the video wades through some familiar metal tropes (flaming skulls, spooky fog, creepy lighting) but never feels safe. It’s striking, frightening and, dare I say, just a little beautiful.
I shouldn’t recommend things that make me mad, but I love dragging KUSI i.e. the news station where journalism goes to die. The other day, they tweeted out this hilarious clip of news anchor Mark Mathis acting as King Newsom which I guess is supposed to be some commentary on the governor’s restrictive COVID guidelines. Ha ha! Isn’t it funny how so many people are dead? I just hope King Newsom takes his little poster to any of the surrounding hospitals—I’m sure they’ll get a big kick out of it.
Four years ago, I made Donald Trump is a Loser, which is the history of Trump’s incredibly stupid and insulting path to the presidency told through word art, fiction, news clippings, art and collage. Well, now that he’s actually a loser, this little book finally gets to live up to its title. I’m still proud of it, even if it’s a reminder of our nation’s darkest hours.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.