Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A B Cs of Voter Turnout

What it’s like to work a polling place for a 15% turnout election:

  • You catch up on everything going on with your friend Dawn who’s sitting next to you at the register table.

  • If you’re Karl and you have a new car, you read the entire car manual.

  • Did you know that the last half of the alphabet (M --> Z) gets way less voters than the first half of the alphabet? This is not a New Thing; you’ve noticed this for years working a polling place. Unfortunately, even though you are a “B,” this time you’re on the M --> Z side of the table.

What it’s like to work a polling place for a 15% turnout election when you’re on the M --> Z side of the table:
  • You eat way more Tootsie Rolls from the candy basket than are good for you.

  • You definitively explore the M --> Z issue. One year, you made the cut-off L --> Z but it didn’t help. You think maybe all those end-of-the-alphabet people have become so bored or passive or irritated in a lifetime of roll calls in which they were always called LAST that they have just given up on social participation.

  • However, closer analysis proves that the Zs have the highest voter turnout of any alphabet letter: 4 of 6 Zs voted, a 67% turnout! Maybe they spent their slack time at the end of roll call discussing civic responsibility or current events. Congratulations, Zs!

  • The Qs were next best, with 4 of 8 Qs voting, a 50% turnout. The Qs consisted of only three families, and one of them was highly active.

  • However, the close affiliation of Q with U did nothing to help the U’s: zero of 2 U’s voted, for a turnout of 0%. It appears that U, having spent a lifetime as the tagalong to Q, has just become too passive to even vote.

Things that brighten the day of the person working a polling place for a 15% turnout election on the M --> Z side of the table:
  • PKs. This is code for “personally known,” when a voter doesn’t have to show ID because they are personally known to the poll worker. Hooray! That means a friend has just walked in the door.

  • A brand new 18-year-old voter. A long-time 90-year-old voter. Hooray, we applaud you!

  • 2fers. This is when two people with the same last name show up together and you only have to locate the name once on the precinct rolls. The pleasure in 2fers is only multiplied when they come in with small children and say things like, “Giving them the voting habit early.”

  • The Hatchers. There are six Hatchers on the precinct register. When each of them comes in, they check to see who still hasn’t voted. They make sure that all the Hatchers (children, in-laws, spouses) vote. By the end of the day, Hatcher turnout is 100%

  • One young woman rushes in. Her mother and aunt (not Hatchers) have voted and they have come home to tell her that people have died for her right to vote and she’d better get out there and cast her ballot. Hooray, hooray! Why isn’t this conversation happening in every household???

  • Two redheads come in with bizarrely red hair – just like yours – and you talk hair color.

  • Someone finds the chunky kind of Tootsie Rolls in the candy basket – your favorite – when you’d thought there were only the skinny kind. There ARE chunky ones in there! 

Things confirmed at the end of the day by the person working a polling place for a 15% turnout election on the M --> Z side of the table:
  • Yes, in fact, the A --> Ls have cast 278 ballots while the M --> Zs – with the same number of registered voters – have only cast 216, a difference of 62 votes or 12.5%. Oddly, however, the A --> Ls have ten blank pages in the precinct register compared with only 3 for the M --> Zs. What can this mean? Further study is called for.

  • The 15% of voters who turned up will continue to get robo calls from every candidate in creation because they have maintained their prized status as Super Voters.

  • The 15% of voters who turned up will have made decisions for the 85% of voters who didn’t bother. Angry at our legislature; pissed at our Congress? Don’t like the way things are? Think what a different country we’d live in if those numbers were reversed! It doesn’t take much to take on a measly 15%.

I’ll be back in November …  aiming for the A --> L side of the table.


  1. Who said statistics were [and wow, that verb choice was/were gets confusing as collective noun rules are very picky in the UK] dull and lifeless? A great little read about an otherwise dull day. Good job, B2.

  2. You couldn't have been more bored than we were. I was up at 4:30 to be able to get to the polling place at 6:00 and open by 7:00 ("The polls are now open!" I announced to the other poll worker), and our first voter showed up at 10:30. Then I left, to be replaced by another, at 2:00 -- and I think we had hit 8 voters by then. Total count at the end, after the evening rush, was 34. This was at JBER -- and I'm thinking, you people put your lives on the line so we can vote and WHERE ARE YOU!??? There are probably many answers to that question, and surely early/absentee voting is one, but you have to wonder how much was spent to gather those 34 votes. This is the 3rd time we have run this election site and the story has been similar each time. At least the other 2 times there were kids in the school who were entertaining to watch, but not last Tuesday! Luckily, my cohort and I had plenty to chat about and had brought our knitting.


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