In My Words: Lessons learned as first-time elections official

In this column published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Greensboro News & Record, Winston-Salem Journal, Greenville Daily Reflector and Elizabeth City Daily Advance, Professor Dave Gammon writes about his experiences as a first-time elections official.

By Dave Gammon, professor of biology

I learned valuable lessons last week as a first time elections official in a hotly-contested election within the swing state of North Carolina. For 13 hours at my check-in table, I smiled through a stuffy face mask and greeted over a hundred voters with last names between Q and Z. Some of the lessons I learned confirmed what I already thought. Others were new revelations.

Dave Gammon, professor of biology

Most importantly, I learned nearly all Americans are wonderful decent people, regardless of political party. I learned families can get along, even when spouses and siblings belong to different political parties.

I learned that Republicans can respectfully wear face masks just like Democrats, and I learned that Democrats can be just as patriotic as Republicans. I also learned that voters across the political spectrum are incredibly engaged. The final tally for our precinct showed nearly three out of four eligible voters cast a ballot either in-person on Election Day, by mail, or by visiting an early voting booth. Veteran election officials told me our tally was several hundred individuals larger than 2016. Go democracy!

Of those who voted in my precinct this year, the vast majority cast their ballots before Election Day. This meant lines on Election Day were consistently short — a fact appreciated by me and my fellow election officials. Our record books revealed that early voting was used by hundreds of Democrats and hundreds of Republicans. Given the bipartisan popularity, I suspect early voting and mail-in ballots are here to stay.

As far as I could tell, the integrity of US elections is sound. I noticed in my record books that my fellow election officials came from both political parties, and we did not discuss who we were voting for. The fellow in charge of my precinct was consistently professional, humble, fair, and nonpartisan in his dealings with everyone, including all voters and an election “observer” who was planted by his political party to make sure there was no “funny business” at the polls. I was not allowed to interact with the observer, but he looked like he might be the most bored person in the room.

Did I observe any mistakes? You bet, but they were all the sort of mistakes that come from putting normal people in unfamiliar circumstances. One of my favorite mistakes was a young man who confidently stated his full name, waited a while, and then meekly turned to his mom so she could remind him of his address. Never once did a voter show up at any of our four check-in counters who was marked as “already voted.”

I noticed plenty of errors in voter registration records. Several voters had neglected to update their current address, but far more common were simple clerical errors. For example, Chloe was spelled Chole. Voter Sam was listed as 104 Sunset Dr instead of 102 Sunset Dr.

The most embarrassing clerical error came from a recently-moved voter who revolted when he saw the political party listed next to his name. “If that party were on my tombstone,” he declared, “I’d turn over in my grave!” I was grateful to point out to him that in North Carolina the political party listed in our records plays a role only during Primary elections, and that he could visit our Help Station to start the process of fixing the clerical error. I recommend to all readers that next time you wait through those awful lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you should proofread your voter registration and make sure your address is current.

It will take time to sort out the winners and implications of the 2020 elections. But from my perspective as a first-time election official, I am happy to report that democracy flourishes in the United States of America.

Views expressed in this column are the author’s own and not necessarily those of Elon University.