Observations from Inside the Virginia Election

 

I served in several capacities in the 2021 VA election.  I volunteered as a poll-watcher with the Republican Party of VA.  I took a shift observing the opening of absentee / mail-in ballots.  And I served in a non-partisan capacity as an election officer at a precinct in Arlington County.  There are requirements in VA law for election officers of different parties to perform certain tasks “when practicable”, so this is a basis for the RP of VA to push for the assignment of token Republicans into these non-partisan slots — that helps.  You come from the party, but work for the county, not for the party.

Overall, things were good, and the only actual problems I saw were minor, and were matters of ignorance rather than malice — near as I could tell.

The core requirement for a poll-watcher (technically referred to as an “Authorized Representative” of a party, or as an independent) is to be able to “see and hear” the proceedings.  Early in the process, a couple of election officers wanted me to stand here or sit there, and I politely countered that if I did so, I would be unable to see and hear what was going on, and so I was highly reluctant to stand or sit where told.  I stressed that I understood the spacing requirements and the desire to not have voters feel crushed or too watched, but that I was going to have to get my job done.  Gosh, maybe if we moved this table a couple of feet, then there would be a great space for me to operate from.  But I still need to see the scanning machine whenever I want, and to be able to hear when questions and concerns were raised by voters at the poll pads (checking in), or at the chief’s desk.

I had a great working relationship with the people at the precinct where I worked.  This started with the Chief, from when I showed up and presented my credentials, to the last moments as I was invited into a lessons learned conversation.  The chief was careful to make sure that I got what I needed, and she had no objections when I said that I wanted to watch various set-ups and teardowns, and see the tape myself, etc…  I was careful to be as polite and accommodating as possible without ceding my requirements.  It paid off.  I wanted to not only observe, but to serve as an ambassador from the Republican Party.  I was there to observe, not to accuse.  Bad attitudes produce bad results.  I got great results with my great attitude!  Still, the people I worked with seemed all on the up and up (don’t they always?), and I had a good time doing good things.

At one point I directly intervened in a voter issue — the operator of a check-in station was about to flush a voter right out the door when all that was needed was an affidavit.  It was this pollbook operator’s first day on that job, and the chief and deputy chief were busy.  I had become quite knowledgeable about the whole process and all of its variations through my poll-watcher work.  So I just stepped in and said that all the voter needed was an affidavit, a “gold form”.  Then I reported my intransigence to the chief, who thanked me and said I did the right thing.  Heck I knew that, but I’m glad the chief saw it that way.

The electronic pollbooks seem to be well-done, and actually made my job more successful.  Electronic systems are not our threat vector.  Instead, it is the mail-in ballot issue.  There is a lot that is right with the process, with fairly strong controls to discourage dual voting, including the aforementioned “gold form”, in which you explicitly sign up for felony charges if you don’t fly right.  I was able to observe a session of mail-in ballot opening, but there is a lot that is still behind the scenes.  There is an initial validation which is carried out in a different room, where envelopes (not ballots) are examined for several criteria.  Those envelopes will be categorized “Valid” or “Needs cure”, or if there is no longer time for a cure, “Rejected”.  That’s the process I thought I was going to observe.  I wound up observing the next step, in which the envelopes are actually opened, ballots separated, and the two piles never see each other going forward.  Again, the people doing this use the electronic pollbooks, and have a two-person, verbal validation of the name and address from outer to inner envelope, and from inner envelope to entry in the pollbook.  It’s relatively robust, and I will provide my recommendations for improvement to the Party People.

Finally, I served as an election officer on election day.  We rotated jobs, so at one point I did everything except the Chief role, which suits me fine.  This was at a different location than my earlier observer work, so it was not the same crew I had come to know.  Which also suited me fine.  I was the first one to arrive and the last one to leave.  I worked the pollbooks, checking people in to vote, I handed ballots to the people coming from Check-in, I helped people to self-scan their ballots, I directed foot traffic, I stood outside and greeted/informed people, I monitored the VA DEMS people who are thicker than flies at every site.

I set up equipment and broke it down, helped figure totals, and I read the tapes from the machine tallying EVERYTHING and recording results into our final report.  So I was the first person in my precinct to know how the vote had gone.  SPOILER, in Arlington the RP got its poop re-positioned.  I observed the sealing of boxes, envelopes, and bags, I escorted all of the materials to the County Courthouse complex, and I helped hand all the sealed stuff to a person whom I knew to be the right official.

I signed all the tapes and half of the seals.  Interestingly, we did not count the paper ballots.  The machine said that we had a certain number, and we were not required to certify that number of paper ballots.  Instead, we certified that every paper ballot present in the machine was in the box now under seal.  That much I do know.  Just the same, when I solicited signatures for the big seal on the box, I played as the host of “Who Wants to Catch a Felony Charge?”  You?  You?  Sign right here.

You cannot get much more involved than that unless you serve as chief, or go knocking on doors.  I did not go door-to-door.  I know some people who did, and they were beat down, so I really appreciate their work.

Some of the people doing the jobs at either of the sites I worked are too comfortable with certain things.  Nothing specific, but some folks have a kind of smug, smarmy, frankly democrat attitude.  One person was fairly insistent about maintaining a certain position.  Well everybody else rotated.  That’s a RED LIGHT for fraud right there.  Or maybe just laziness.  The Chief should have fixed this.

Regarding Arlington losing by a wide margin, that’s fine.  We lost by a smaller margin than last time, and this phenomenon repeated probably in all of Virginia’s blue precincts.  With no electoral college, these slightly-less-bad losses get to accumulate into a win even if the red precincts hadn’t picked up a single vote.  But I suspect that they did as well.

The VA DEMs have an awesome ground game.  They have a table or a booth at every avenue of approach to every entrance of every precinct polling location.  They have supervisors who drive around replenishing supplies and donuts and coffee.  They hand out “Democrat Sample Ballots” which are the real ballot more or less, but printed on blue paper, and lacking the bar codes and such.  They hand these out and only the most staunch resist.  Overwhelming majorites of voters came to the polls carrying their blue cheat sheets.  The Republicans have the exact same thing, but I only saw two people handing them out — ever — and both of those people were ON THE BALLOT.  So RP VA gets a huge F for ground game.  Well, the RP cannot mobilize a workforce that doesn’t show up.  And despite how involved I have been in this election — I did not vote down ballot, because the smaller races are not party marked.  That’s right, all I filled in was G, LG, AG, (something else too?) and of course NO on all of the tax and spend horsepoop.  Gee, would have been nice to have a red cheat sheet.

RECOMMENDATION #0: Contact your local or state Republican Party and ask how you can help.  It wouldn’t hurt to let them know that you’re furious at the limp-wristed SOBs who have sold us out, and that you’re here to help change that.  Nobody said volunteering was submission.  It’s assertion, and you can always walk away at any time.  You’re volunteering on your terms — not theirs.  However, there are laws which are not flexible, and the organization will know better than you do where your efforts might be most helpful.

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  1. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Thank you. That brought back a lot of memories.

    • #1
  2. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    w00t!

    • #2
  3. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Well done! I’ve worked only one polling place, in very rural Missouri. We got fewer than fifty voters, everyone working and voting knew everyone else, average age was probably 70, and there was no drama. Your experience was far more interesting, and it sounds like you did a terrific job. Thanks!

    BDB: Electronic systems are not our threat vector.  Instead, it is the mail-in ballot issue.

    I suspect that is exactly right.

    • #3
  4. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Thanks for putting in the effort of making such a detailed report. It brought back memories, for me too, from a time when voting was much less carefully scrutinized: South Side of Chicago with voting machines. 

    • #4
  5. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    They hand out “Democrat Sample Ballots” which are the real ballot more or less

    I once got into a interesting discussion with a Democratic worker (not at this election) when he was trying to give me the sample ballot. When I told him I knew who I was voting for, and IMO if someone shows up at the election site not knowing who to vote for, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear, for sure.

    • #5
  6. jonb60173 Member
    jonb60173
    @jonb60173

    You reminded me of the one and only time I was an election judge.  I figured since I had recently retired why not, it looks easy.  It was the 2017 election, Trump vs Hillary.  That day started at 5:30 am to set up all the voting booths etc. and ended at 10:30 pm because we had to take everything apart and pack it up.  That is one hell of a long day and I’ll never do it again.  Since the polling place is void of any election news I was totally stunned the next morning to learn Trump had won.  Oddly enough that was the only Presidential election I chose not to vote, Hillary was beyond terrible and I had no clue who Donald Trump was.

    • #6
  7. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    In Arizona, Judges are considered to be non-partisan.  However, when I ran for Judge as a Republican in 2012, at every Indian Precinct the Dems had hired a Native American to handout a sample ballot with my opponent’s name on it and a check by her name!

    • #7
  8. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    Thanks for the account.  It’s good to find that poll workers are showing good faith.

    The way to get conservative policies enacted is to win elections, and the way to win elections is to get involved and put out the effort.

    • #8
  9. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    This has been what I have been saying since election day.

    If I were an American, I would be considered a past election judge, campaign manager, RNC county chair.  In Canada we have separate political parties at state and federal level and I was chair for both.

    I have been to a bunch of political conventions.  My reward has been a lot of fun experience and a political appointment to a provincial board.

    So everyone get involved and take the machinery back from the Democrats.  The number one reason 2020 was lost is complacency.  

    • #9
  10. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    This has been what I have been saying since election day.

    If I were an American, I would be considered a past election judge, campaign manager, RNC county chair. In Canada we have separate political parties at state and federal level and I was chair for both.

    I have been to a bunch of political conventions. My reward has been a lot of fun experience and a political appointment to a provincial board.

    So everyone get involved and take the machinery back from the Democrats. The number one reason 2020 was lost STOLEN is complacency.

     

    • #10
  11. T-Fiks Member
    T-Fiks
    @TFiks

    My wife and I served as “poll” watchers here in Tacoma, WA. As you may know, Washington state uses exclusively mail-in voting. We were both rookies, and the bi-partisan orientation gave us only a general understanding of the vote-counting process. We talked briefly with the GOP person who organized and assigned poll watchers for our party. There was no discussion of weak spots in the process that might accomodate fraud.

    With my very limited knowledge, everything looked pretty safe in the auditor’s building once we went to work. The measures to prevent legally fraudulent ballots from entering the system in that building seemed reasonably good. The vulnerabilities in the system, in my opinion, lie in what happens before ballots are turned in.

    In Washington, it almost seems that one has to work not to become a registered voter. I just renewed my driver’s license online and registering to vote seemed merely to require checking a square (I was already registered, so I didn’t go through the whole process). When you combine that with the potential for vote harvesting, it’s easy to see that our elections may be far from fair. I can’t imagine how officials could actually prevent de facto vote harvesting. 

    In Washington state, I believe that, even with strictly monitered vote counting, it is easy to exploit ignorant and indifferent voters to win elections.

     

    • #11
  12. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    BDB: Again, the people doing this use the electronic pollbooks, and have a two-person, verbal validation of the name and address from outer to inner envelope, and from inner envelope to entry in the pollbook.

    The inner envelopes have disappeared in Fairfax to conserve paper.

    • #12
  13. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    BDB: Again, the people doing this use the electronic pollbooks, and have a two-person, verbal validation of the name and address from outer to inner envelope, and from inner envelope to entry in the pollbook.

    The inner envelopes have disappeared in Fairfax to conserve paper.

    Really?

    • #13
  14. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    BDB (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    BDB: Again, the people doing this use the electronic pollbooks, and have a two-person, verbal validation of the name and address from outer to inner envelope, and from inner envelope to entry in the pollbook.

    The inner envelopes have disappeared in Fairfax to conserve paper.

    Really?

    Yep. At least my 2021 absentee ballot didn’t have one.

    • #14
  15. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    BDB: Again, the people doing this use the electronic pollbooks, and have a two-person, verbal validation of the name and address from outer to inner envelope, and from inner envelope to entry in the pollbook.

    The inner envelopes have disappeared in Fairfax to conserve paper.

    Really?

    Yep. At least my 2021 absentee ballot didn’t have one.

    Damn.

    • #15
  16. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Correction: It’s the inner ballot security envelope that was eliminated – the one you had to open in the presence of a witness.  Now, the ballot is accessible once you open the outer envelope. I believe you still seal the completed ballot in a separate signed/witnessed envelope before mailing back in the postage-paid outer envelope. Sorry for the confusion.

    • #16
  17. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Thanks for the post, BDB.  It’s a lot more work to get involved than to just sit home and complain about the ineffectiveness of the party, but this is often why Democrats win.  Depending on the location, they get a lot more volunteers than the Republicans do.

    • #17