6 Things to Consider When Going to the Polls


It’s been a weekend: Halloween, day light saving, full moon. Let’s cut to the chase. A listicle of things to consider when going to the polls Tuesday. 

1. Don’t Wear Campaign Clothing

At least, don’t make it visible. “Influencing another person’s vote by electioneering/campaigning is illegal in and within a polling location,” says Jake Rollow, Director of Communication for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Meaning: Shirts supporting Biden or Trump are verboten: they’re considered materials, and aren’t allowed at the polls. Yes. That includes your MAGA hat. Yes. That includes the hat with the Aviator shades. Leave them in the car. It also applies to any down-ballot candidates, too.

“Apparel for a candidate not on the ballot is allowable, but it cannot name a party that is on the ballot,” Rollow continued. In other words, I can wear my John Anderson for President button, or you can wear that vintage Alf Landon sunflower button

The reasoning for this rule and law probably stems from a time when our voting was way more chaotic. (If you want to learn more about our voting history, check out this Throughline episode (podcast).) And, if by chance you are wearing campaign material, don't be surprised to be asked to remove it, to cover it up, to be shown where the restroom is (so you can turn a shirt inside out), or to be invited to go home to change the article and return. 

2. Don’t Help Your Kid Voting Their First Time

Poll workers (aka: Election Inspectors) often joke with little kids coming to the polls with a parent or grandparent, asking if they’re there to help. It’s cute. And, most poll workers know that whatever input that four or six-year old has to offer probably won’t factor into the adult’s decision.

The same might not be true the other way around. Why can’t parents help their kids? Simple. “To protect the new voter’s right to a private ballot and prevent voter coercion,” says Rollow. (Actually, that recommended podcast above comes in handy here, too.) 

“Voters are allowed to seek help,” says Katrina Ritchey, Deputy Clerk for the City of Saline. “But that help comes in the form of a poll worker.” And, depending on the question, the answer might require the assistance of one Democratic and one Republican poll worker during the assist: just so no party sways favor over the other.

Bottom line, rookies: if you have a question, ask one of the people behind the desk where you got the ballot. 

3. Be Patient

It’s also important to realize delays can happen when waiting in line. The computer they use to check-in voters has to record a back-up regularly. That can take a minute. A computer might fall off line. Power outages happen. Any number of little snafus might bring the line to a screeching halt. But it’s only momentarily. 

And, then, on occasion, user error occurs. Full disclosure: I’ve worked as an Election Inspector, and here’s an issue that happened once.

About 11 hours into one election, during the dinner rush, one of the poll workers had a problem with a voter: after scanning his ID, a name that did not match the name on his ID appeared. After a minute or so of trying to sort out the issue, the voter was practically in the center of the precinct, screaming about how he had been voting there for decades. Long story short, the poll worker had accidentally clicked an incorrect field in the poll book software while attempting to issue the voter a ballot, and she was looking at the wrong screen: kind of like looking at the wrong tab in Excel, or in a web browser. A glitch. An over-sensitive track-pad. Who knows how it happened. We sorted it out, scanned his ID again and got the name that matched, issued him a ballot through the software, and everyone moved on. 

Point being: if you’ve been waiting in line a while, and it’s near the end of a long day, this kind of thing might happen. It could happen any time, really. Take a breath if it happens to you. Take several. It’ll get sorted out. And maybe have a snack or meal before you come vote.

However, patience extends beyond the line. Nation-wide, 91 million votes have already been cast. That’s 70% of 2016’s 129 Million total votes. As of Saturday, 2.6 million early, or absentee ballots had already been received in Michigan: 2.2 million shy of 2016’s total outcome, and half the total of 2008. Who knows what that will mean for lines in Saline, or surrounding townships?

But, without question, it means it will take a while for clerk’s offices throughout the state to count all those ballots. The polls are open for 13 hours: 780 minutes. And for those of us who have slipped a ballot into a tabulator, we know how finicky it can be. Now envision one Republican and one Democrat jointly (because they have to) feeding absentee ballots into that machine all day, and into the night, in clerk’s offices throughout the state (and how many will get spit out like brat sticking out its tongue). You’ll know who mayor is long before you know who won the state offices, let alone our next president. Find something to occupy you: Binge watch Schitt’s Creek after you vote. The first season is a little rough, but it’s 26 hours of comedic gold to distract you until the Associate Press declares a winner on Thursday (I didn’t say which week). 

4. Wear a mask.

No: It’s not a requirement. But Michigan recorded 3792 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday. That’s nearly double the highest total of new cases in April. There were 20 new cases in Saline last week. As Michigan Radio reported last week, some parts of Western Michigan are overwhelmed by Covid cases, and hospitals are telling patients to maybe put-off elective surgeries, again.

Be a Mensch. Mask-up.

5. Bring a Black or Blue Ballpoint Pen

This also isn’t a requirement. But, poll workers will be sanitizing the ever-dwindling stash of pens throughout the day. (Yes… people will accidentally be snagging pens from the voting booths, all day.) You could either hold a pen that’s been held by dozens of other people, or bring your own. In fact, bring two. 

6. Thank Your Poll Workers.

They set up at 6:00 AM. Polls close at 8:00 PM, but the last votes aren’t cast until the last person in line (at 20:00 hours) is done. Then comes the process to close-up shop, which can seem Byzantine at times. It’s a long day. No matter how long you might have stood in line to vote (and, let’s not kid ourselves: it’s Saline, not. any. of these. places.), their day has been longer. Let ‘em know they’re appreciated.

If you are interested to be a poll worker in a future election, an application for Election Inspector can be found here.

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