As some of you might already know, I served as an election officer during yesterday’s election. This was a new role to me as I’ve been handing out sample ballots or participating in last minute GOTV efforts for Democratic candidates or progressive organizations in almost every election since I was in college. While I was still out campaigning for folks like Jennifer Wexton this year (I do work for a political organization after all), I wanted to directly serve Loudoun County this year — even if it was in a nonpartisan role.
There is no doubt that this was a long day as I got up at 4am so I could be at the precinct by 4:45 (polls open at 6am in Virginia, but we had to get everything set up before voters arrived) and I didn’t get out until we finished breaking down and processing everything around 8pm. But time actually went by relatively quickly as we had a steady stream of voters, there were often small tasks to do during breaks like counting ballots after we opened up new packages (each bundle is supposed to have 100), and I was working with some good people who it was fun chit-chatting with.
Since it’s pretty well known that I’m a political junkie even when it comes to things outside of my job, I’m not ashamed to admit I looked up the precinct’s previous election results once I found out I was stationed at Mercer Middle School in Aldie, VA. I was very pleased with the initial results that I found as Hillary Clinton won by a margin of 987 to 707 in 2016 and Ralph Northam won by a margin of 694 to 417.
While statewide Democratic candidates had performed well here in the last couple years, however, Barbara Comstock had won the precinct in her first two campaigns. She defeated John Foust in the 2014 midterm election by a 521 to 390 margin (23 votes were cast for other candidates) and LuAnn Bennett by an 887 to 860 margin in 2016 (10 votes were cast for other candidates). Since the precinct was obviously a lot closer in 2016 and statewide Democratic candidates had done even better recently, I had a feeling Jennifer Wexton would end up winning the precinct. She did by a margin of 977 to 611 (there were 5 votes cast for other candidates).
In other words, this precinct went from giving Comstock a 14 point victory in 2014 to giving Jennifer Wexton a 23 point victory in 2018. That’s a 37 point swing in four years. It also saw a 71 percent increase in turnout between the two midterm elections (934 voters in 2014 and 1593 in 2018). It was also very close to the turnout we’ve seen in presidential election years as there were only 1610 votes cast in the precinct back in 2012 and 1757 votes in the 2016 election.
With the vote analysis out of the way, here are a couple other observations I had from the day.
- It seems like there are stories every year about recounts taking place where there are “overvotes,” but I was genuinely surprised at how many people actually ended up marking two candidates for the same race. At least a dozen people came up to me and requested a new ballot because they had messed their previous one up. And I’m just one election officer at one precinct. But the moral of this is your probably not the only person who’s messed up your ballot if you did, so make sure to ask for a new one.
- With a recent Supreme Court ruling loosening up restrictions on political clothing that you’re allowed to wear while voting, I had four people wearing political gear while receiving their ballot (still not many considering there were 1,593 voters). Interestingly, all four were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
- While we were warned at our training that emotions might be running high on election day, the vast majority of people were polite and voters were constantly thanking me for serving. There was only one “incident” the entire day and that was a volunteer for one of the political parties outside the precinct who came inside to loudly complain about a worker for the school system who had parked his truck relatively close to the entrance used by voters.
- There were at least two dozen people who showed up to the wrong precinct. Some of this was due to boundary changes over the years, others were because voters had moved, and a few people simply didn’t know where they voted. This was usually quickly rectified by one of the election officers giving folks the correct address for their polling place.
Overall, it was very rewarding to serve as an election officer. While I missed certain aspects of the campaigning done on election day, it felt good to give back in a small way. I’m looking forward to serving again in future elections — maybe even stepping it up as a “technology specialist” and eventually an Election Chief or Assistant Chief.