Checking Out, Checking In

My 15 Hour Stint as a Carroll County Poll Watcher

By Kris Breeden

Election Day is the only time when everyone, regardless of age, wants a sticker.

I found this out on November 4, when I worked as a Check-In Judge at Piney Ridge Elementary School in Sykesville, MD during this year’s historic election.

Two other McDaniel students, senior Christy Beatty and junior Kirstie Menzies, joined me as Voting Unit Judges as part of McDaniel’s Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Program.

The HAVA program trained more than 100 McDaniel students to work the polls across Baltimore and Carroll County.

The day started around 4:45 in the morning, when our unwanted alarms sounded the beginning of a long shift.

I know I made a quick Starbucks run before arriving to my precinct at 6 in the morning. We started posting signs and setting up machines right away.

Meanwhile, the line of eager voters started forming.

The polls opened at 7, and the crowd didn’t break until noon. Approximately 800 people had cast their votes at Piney Ridge by then.

During a lull, Menzies commented, “I think it’s gone by really fast, especially when it’s busy.”

I have to agree. Though I sat there for about five hours straight checking in approximately 250 people, I didn’t realize it had been quite that long.

After the noon rush, I had the opportunity to chat with the other two Check-In Judges, Sykesville residents Stacey Jones and Wayne Shiplet.

Shiplet, who has been working the polls for a long time, said this was one of the bigger elections he’s seen.

“I started when I was 18 in Baltimore City. I’ve been doing it ever since,” he says.

When I asked why he started, Shiplet responded, “Well, I was a Republican judge in Baltimore City. The city was only about 10 percent Republican, so they needed me. They said it was in the books.”

He added with a laugh, “I never did find it.”

After we got through another line of voters, Jones explained that she’s been working the polls for about six years.

“I enjoy it. I blame Wayne for everything, if you hadn’t noticed,” she said with a smile.

She did blame a lot on Wayne, even threatening to put him in “time out.” It’s clear they have done many elections together.

On a more serious note, Shiplet shared his support for McDaniel’s decision to train students.

“Yeah, I think it was a great idea. It gets you more involved in the system,” he said.

Near the end of the day, Menzies said she would definitely be an election judge again.

She explained, “I actually have to do this for my Campaigns and Elections class, but I probably would have done it anyway. You see that all kinds of people vote and it really does make a difference.”

I was in a similar situation. I signed on because the program had a need for Spanish speakers and I had a need for 200 bucks.

However, even after a fifteen hour shift inside a windowless elementary school cafeteria, I think I would do it again too.

It was especially interesting to see the breakdown of the results at the end of the day.

Who knew, for example, that people wrote in things like “Donald Duck” and “Thomas Tank Engine” for Congress? (True story!)

Due to the historic nature of this year’s election, and its importance given the past eight disappointing years, most of us were eager to see the presidential results.

Jones said, “It’s like? I’m very, very excited. I’ve seen a lot more older and younger people coming to vote than in the past. It’s a very exciting time for a lot of people. Either way, change is change. Don’t look at it as negative, but as positive. Let’s move forward.”

She paused, then asked me, “Because what happens when we move forward?”

Unsure of what she was looking for, I offered the only logical response I could come up with: “It’s positive.”

Smiling, she responded, “There you go, baby.”