Voters wait outside Oak Hills Terrace Elementary school on Election Day. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

A small group arrived before dusk at a middle school portable building Monday evening to prepare for Tuesday’s election. After summoning a custodian to open the premises, they moved tables and unlocked a big cage of electronic equipment. Several in the group knew each other from previous elections. The mood was jovial as acquaintances were renewed and those not yet retired loosened up after a day’s work.

Three or so in the group were clerks, two whom I had recruited, and one who had volunteered and been referred to me by the Bexar County Elections Department. I was there as an election judge, joined by an alternate judge.

We decided how to arrange the tables, ballot printing stations, curbside vote unit, computer with printers, and the big DS-200 that reads the printed ballots. The configuration of voting stations and the processing tables had to be rethought to accommodate the suggestion from county elections to have one voting booth isolated from everything else for the few voters who would decline to wear masks during the pandemic.

After the payroll paperwork and oaths, the set-up began. Some of the brackets on the equipment snapped shut on a finger here and there; the Plexiglas shield for the processing table, a pandemic precaution, was particularly heavy and treacherous. I had picked up a satchel of forms and another satchel containing the laptop computer and other communications equipment the previous Saturday at Bexar County Elections; we strategically situated these contents. The satchels had been jam-packed with numerous items, with remarkable efficiency. I had also picked up extra “Vote Here” signs needed for this particular voting location.

All of this was the easy part. And there was an inspector from the Secretary of State’s office who showed up to see that everything was done according to specifications.

Election Day began in the dark, with a rising at 4:30 a.m. Breakfast had to be substantial since time only permits quick meals and maybe some snacks. The group reassembled in the dark at 6 a.m. This time a custodian had the site already unlocked and open.

The big DS-200, kept overnight in the locked cage for security, needed to be rolled down a ramp and placed near the exit door. Each of the electronic units had to be set up, and records needed to be sworn to that no vote had been taken yet on the DS-200 and the curbside unit. The laptop and apparatus connected to it can be particularly temperamental.

By 7 a.m. a line of voters had already formed.

Most voters were friendly and cooperative. The interactions alternated between pleasant and business-like moments. The few exceptions would become the subjects of war stories, such as the lady last winter who began screaming that we were Communists trying to stop her from voting when we delayed opening in the morning due to a problem setting up equipment, the self-identified right-winger who objected to presenting a photo identification, or the perennial case of someone wanting to vote in a primary election without choosing a party. For this election, it would be the few voters who refused to wear masks.

The routine can be grinding. The principal task of the judges involves knowing what forms (and there are many) to be used in non-routine actions. I was busy with both a provisional vote and a curbside vote when the alternate judge at the computer quit and walked out – for what reason remains a mystery.

When an electronic unit ceases working, a very important personage, the technical support person, comes to the rescue. This time the printer that prepares the ballots would not work, so we had to do part of the preparation by hand. But the “techie” fixed that readily once he arrived from his tour of voting sites in the vicinity for which he was responsible.

The 7 p.m. closing involved shutting down the printers, DS-200, curbside unit, and laptop. It was during this phase that we printed the hard copy tapes of the votes and signed them. Those were for backup. I extracted computer chips with the same information from the DS-200 and the curbside unit. These, along with a “chain-of-custody” sheet, went into a little purple bag. It took about an hour and a half for all this to be done, and for the forms to be sorted out and placed into the proper canvas bags.

The clerks departed, exhausted but in good spirits. I felt satisfied with the way the day turned out. There were no demonstrators, hecklers, or real confrontations. I then drove the canvas bag of completed forms, the canvas bag of provisional ballots, and the all-important little purple bag with the computer chips to a regional collection center, where officials would then subject the materials to an audit. While the presiding judges from various locations waited in line for their turns with the auditors, they exchanged their war stories.

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Anthony J. Blasi

Anthony J. Blasi, Ph.D., Th.D., is a retired professor of sociology and author who taught at Tennessee State University.