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The Poll Worker's Manual

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In light of Florida 2000, and given how close this year's presidential race is, the Monroe County Board of Elections isn't taking any chances. Instead of training a third of its 2,300 election inspectors, as it normally would during an election year, it's training everyone. Last week I took the election inspector class with 100 other poll workers. During the two-hour PowerPoint presentation, as we learned about all the things that can go wrong, the room grew tense. Or maybe it was just me. Luckily, I still have the instruction manual.

• You and three other election inspectors are scheduled to arrive at the polling place at 5:30 a.m. Remind voters who arrive early that the polls open at 6 a.m.

A note about opening the polls: Sometimes inspectors oversleep, so set your alarm. It takes a minimum of two inspectors --- one from each party --- to open a polling place because we, along with the electorate, just don't trust you people.

• One inspector will have the supply bag. Take out the Number 2 and Number 3 keys, and proceed to open the voting booth. There is no Number 1 key.

A note about the supply bag: If you're bringing the supply bag, set two alarms. If you don't show up, the other inspectors can't open the polling place. When this happens, they'll have to face a line of voters who haven't had their coffee yet and are already convinced someone is going to try to prevent them from voting.

• The Number 3 key opens the front and back of the voting booth. Open the back and verify that all dials are at zero. Check the dateline on the big roll of paper that records write-in votes.

A note about the Number 3 key: It often gets stuck in the back of the voting booth. Don't be impatient. Ignore the voters' acerbic comments. Don't force the key or it will break. When the Number 3 key breaks, the voting machine cannot be turned on. If this happens, the voters may become unruly. Smile apologetically as you link arms with the other inspectors and back away from the crowd.

• Work with your fellow inspectors to complete the following tasks: open the front of the booth using the Number 3 key, snap the curtains inside it, post the Vote Here signs, place the Poll Book on the table, and activate the voting machine using the Number 2 key. No, there's never been a Number 1 key.

A note about election inspectors: You are expected to get along together, regardless of party affiliation. Tensions will mount during your 16-hour shift, especially since you're using a Lincoln Administration-era voting machine with no replacement parts and you're being overrun by suspicious voters and righteous lawyers who are just waiting for you to screw up. Cooperate with the other inspectors. Do not shout, throw furniture, or call each other names like Satanic France-Sucking Socialist and Greedy America-Raping Warmonger.

• Let the first voter approach the table. Ask for her name and look it up in the Poll Book.

A note about the Poll Book: The Board of Elections was inundated with registrations this year, and it may have made errors recording them. If you can't find the voter's name in the Poll Book, try to calm her. Search for other possible spellings. If you still can't find it, search for silly names like Mickey Mouse and P. Diddy; maybe the voter will lose interest and walk away. If she doesn't, offer her an Affidavit Ballot. The Affidavit Ballot is a special paper ballot which, as you and she both well know, may or may not be counted at the end of the day depending on how tired and pissed off everyone is. Then duck under the table and crawl to the emergency exit.

• While voters are waiting to vote, maintain crowd control. Place chairs along the line for tired and elderly voters. And forget about the Number 1 key --- there isn't one! Move on!

A note about crowds: Monroe County has 425,000 voters registered. If even 50 percent of them vote, 212,500 people will arrive at your polling place at exactly the same moment. Be prepared. Frustrated new voters might hurl themselves to the ground. Seasoned voters might incite a riot. A handful of confused citizens might think they're waiting for something important like flu shots. At the first sign of trouble, remove the chairs before they become projectiles.

• When the polls close at 9 p.m., you must allow voters already standing in line to vote. Politely but firmly tell voters who arrive after 9 p.m. that the polls are closed.

A note about tardy voters: They will whine, accuse you of denying them their rights, and try to bribe you with things in their briefcases. If they offer anything less than a bundle of $20s, the newest iPod (it's time to start thinking about Christmas presents), or a handgun, indulge in making a crude gesture involving at least one body part. You've earned it.

• After the last voter leaves, turn off the voting machine with the Number 2 key and lock it up with the Number 3 key.

A note about the election: It's rigged. You knew that, didn't you? So was the 2000 election, but we were just beginners back then. Ah, youth. This year we've got it nailed, thanks to you. By creating a realistic voting experience, you kept voters from noticing that the Number 1 key --- needed to actually count the votes --- is missing from its special slot in the voting machine. Now just tear up the roll of paper with the write-in votes, toss the Affidavit Ballots into the trash, and hit the lights on your way out. Your paycheck will arrive within two weeks.

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