Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Observations on the Virginia Primary Election

Yesterday, as you may recall, we had our primary election here in Virginia, where voters went to the polls to elect the candidates who will represent their parties in the November general election for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. As I did for last November's presidential election††, I worked at my local precinct as a volunteer Election Official, which gave me the opportunity to make my own observations on our political processes and what they meant at the local level. Here are my take-aways from yesterday's experience:

* Because it was a primary election, the turnout was relatively light. The precinct at which I worked has 3150 registered voters; when the polls closed at 7:00 PM (after opening at 6:00 AM), 432 people had voted - about a 14% turnout rate.

* Virginia has an "open primary" system, in which voters may vote for either party, but may select only one. Essentially, there were two parallel elections: one for the Republican and one for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, with separate ballots. As election officials, we were required to be totally non-partisan, to the point where we were told to ask voters, "In which primary do you wish to vote?" rather than asking if they wanted a "Republican" or a "Democratic" ballot ... this was meant to avoid any hint that we might favor one party or the other. Oddly enough, this language caused some confusion for many voters, who just thought of the election simply as a single "primary," and did not expect to have to choose a party ballot. A few people objected to having to indicate by their choice whether they were voting Republican or Democratic. Sometimes, you just can't win.

* We rotated among various jobs during the 13-hour voting day, taking turns greeting voters at the door, checking them in with our electronic poll books, passing out blank ballots, operating the optical scanner, etc. I preferred greeting voters at the door and checking them in, which gave more opportunities to be sociable.

* At the risk of generalizing from a small sample, of the 432 ballots requested by voters in our precinct, about 112 were for Republicans and the remainder for Democrats, indicating a much more robust turnout by Democratic voters.

* As in November, there was absolutely no evidence of voter fraud, at least at our precinct. Every voter had proper identification, and none were shown in the official records of having voted more than once (for instance, had requested an absentee ballot and then tried to vote in person).

* The relentless drumbeat of allegations of voting fraud since the November election, whether accurate or not, resonated with some voters. We answered several questions from concerned voters about the accuracy of our record-keeping and how they would know that their votes "counted" once their marked ballots had been optically scanned by the vote-counting machines. Most people were satisfied with our answers, but one man in particular seemed to be completely convinced that every election was "rigged" and that he would never be able to be sure that we were completely honest.

* No partisan "poll-watchers" showed up to monitor our activities. I suppose this was to be expected, since the election was not a head-to-head contest between Republicans and Democrats.

Those are my major observations of the conduct of our primary election yesterday. I was pleased to have been a part of the little-d democratic process, and will continue to volunteer for future service as long as they'll have me.

One last happy observation ...

Late in the day I was working as the greeter, directing voters to the proper precinct (we had two precincts operating out different sides of the local elementary school gym) and making sure they hadn't left their IDs behind when the left the polling place. An elderly lady leaning heavily on a cane made her slow way up to the door, and I gave her my usual "two precincts, Alban to the right and Saratoga to the left" speech. She stopped and said pleasantly, "Thank you, young man!" before going on into the station; on the way out, when I asked if she still had her ID, she said again, "Yes, young man, thank you for asking."

It's been a long, long time since anyone called me young man, and it made my day.

Have a good day. Vote. And, if you can, volunteer to assist in the process. It's more important now than ever.

More thoughts tomorrow.


† For some odd reason, here in The Old Dominion we vote for them separately.

†† You can read my observations on that experience in this blog post from last November.


Cloudia said...

Thank you for your service and for this report from the front, young man

Mike said...

Missouri has the same system. But we have republican and democratic poll workers. When you get your ticket, to get your ballot, a person from each party has to initial it.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I wasn't asked that yesterday. Hmmm....
I voted very early (7:08) and not dressed all that well. I even had on a ball cap to boot. Maybe they thought I was scary so they just let me do my thing.