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(Bizoo_n/Adobe)

Working at the polls for the primary runoff and special election in downtown Austin could have been smoother.


I served as an alternate judge on Tuesday, helping the election judge with any issues at the site, as well walking voters through the process. The Travis County elections team employed a positive scrappy attitude in trying to help us navigate the myriad issues that we encountered while setting up, but it was still a challenging day.

As someone who was new to poll working, I figured I might be scheduled alongside a veteran of the process. Instead, my location had four workers, three with no prior experience and one with a week's worth of early voting expertise. We were supposed to be a team of seven, but the three dropped out for reasons that were not disclosed—they may or may not be among the 15 that quit due to COVID.

The poll at the William B. Travis building was difficult to find, and we received little instruction on how to get there or where to park. In fact, the location seemed to be so obscure that only one candidate, Margaret Chen Kercher, had put up signage.

By about 2 p.m. we got additional "Vote Here" signs, but the complaints about being hard to find persisted throughout the day.

Our team could relate, as none of us could immediately find the room we were supposed to be in when we arrived, and we were late in getting the various voting machines set up. We managed to open our poll location in time for our first voter at 8:15 a.m. (but we were supposed to be open at 7 a.m.).

However, that voter might not have actually been our first, as the outside doors were locked and there didn't seem to be anyone onsite to resolve the issue. As it was a government building, it required badge access 24 hours, 7 days a week.

We used a garbage can to prop open the door, but the wind repeatedly knocked it over, closing and locking the door. Then we wedged a tape roll, which seemed to work slightly better.

After that, we had to get our poll site's cell phone working, and that had its own set of issues.

Needless to say, we could have used more help.

But the good thing about our shrunken team was that we all had access to personal protective equipment, like face shields. This was not guaranteed during training, as we were told, "PPE items and quantity might differ from what is shown in this video due to availability."

Another plus of the location was the massive room size, which allowed us to space registration desks, ballot marking devices (where you make voting selections), and the ballot box far apart.

After the chaotic opening, we only saw a trickle of voters. This could have been a result of the inaccessibility of the site or maybe that it catered to people who usually work downtown—and a lot of people are not going to the office.

Our small pool of voters seemed largely unfazed by the pandemic. Everyone that came through wore a mask of some sort. However, I only heard the occasional passing comment about voting in the middle of a spike in COVID-19 cases. The majority of voters already had started working from their offices downtown, so they were potentially acclimated to the risks of being inside with other people.

On the note of PPE, the "finger condoms" (officially finger cots) along with the always loved "I Voted" stickers were the stars of the day. Voters seemed to get a kick out of slipping on the finger cots to sign and vote. Some even asked if they could grab a few extra.

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