Poll Worker Training for Next Election Day Marathon

By Mike McClary
The Arizona Republic

It’s been said that an election campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. Having run a marathon and having worked at my precinct on Election Day, I can’t argue. Both require mental and physical stamina, both cause similar aches and pains and in the end both offer a rewarding and exhilarating experience.

Last fall I ran my first and probably last marathon. When I decided to take on that challenge, about nine months or so before the race, I didn’t know what I was in for but figured I had plenty of time to prepare my body and my brain for the 26.2-mile haul.

When I volunteered to work at my local polling place on Election Day, I had no idea I should have been training just as hard. Instead of 13-mile training runs, I should have practiced standing in place for 13 hours.

At my precinct, a relatively small one with fewer than 2,000 registered voters, we didn’t expect to have much of a crowd outside of the folks voting on their way to work, at the lunch hour or on their way home.


At 6 a.m. on Election Day it was raining voters and it never let up.

The volunteer coordinator cautioned me that it would be a long day — at least 14 hours — and that I should bring food, any medications and, for the slow times, a book to read. Based on that information, I figured my duties would include helping out when asked, greeting my mother-in-law when she voted and reading the last half of Seabiscuit.

In reality my job was to stand by the machine that tabulates the ballots. All day. I showed voters how to insert their ballot and helped them if the machine rejected it due to over-votes or under-votes, which happened every three or four voters. Under the perfect scenario, my coworkers and I would rotate from one assignment to the next to break up the monotony. But to do so we needed a break in the action. The break never came.

In fact, so steady was the stream of voters that we all had to cut in line at some point in the day to ensure we could vote ourselves.

What struck me throughout the day was the positive spirit of voters despite the long lines. By and large, folks seemed upbeat and proud to vote and virtually everyone who cast a ballot wanted an “I Voted Today�? sticker.

With few exceptions, voters cast their ballots with a smile as if to say: My voice has been heard. This optimism kept me going even as my legs and feet wanted me to concede.

Around 7:20 p.m. the last voter cast his ballot – thirteen hours and 20 minutes or so after the first. We spent the next hour transmitting our precinct’s results, breaking down the voting booths and sharing the titles of books we all brought with us but never got a chance to read.

First-time marathoners are asked, “Would you run another one?” When faced with that question, I replied, “Why on Earth would I?”

On Election Night my wife asked if I’d work the polls again. “Ask me tomorrow,” I sighed. Later, as I dipped my feet into a hot bath, I thought about the question. Would I do it again?

You bet I would.

And thankfully I have four years to train for it.

Mike McClary is a freelance writer and corporate communications consultant who lives in Scottsdale. He can be reached at michael.mcclary@gmail.com. The views expressed are those of the author.

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