It Takes an Army- A View from the Trenches

By Lance Chilton

You may have heard that elections are corrupt, that you can’t trust the results, that the system is gamed – and you’ve probably heard those unfounded claims by the other side after they have suffered a defeat, though the reverberations of the better-than-expected showing by Democrats across the country have been almost eerily quiet. I’m writing to tell you that Bernalillo County’s elections are air-tight, the results accurate, but it takes an army.

Field Marshall Maggie Toulouse Oliver and General Linda Stover are fully in charge, but there are literally hundreds of people who were on the front lines working for a completely accurate election. Perhaps unlike the metaphorical army, which carries out its duties with guns and ammunition, this army does its job through courtesy and knowledge.

I am certain that I will leave out important members of the efficient staff, but I’d like to mention some of the many categories of workers who made the election a success. First among those I encountered were those on the training staff – though I’d been an election official on several previous occasions, I had a 2 ½ hour, well-taught class in the Election Bureau’s warehouse. The trainers answered all of my fellow election officials’ questions patiently, with a smile.

Of course, the extensive computer connections required for the election had been set up in advance by other workers, as had the voting sites themselves. Since New Mexico invites Early Voting, the 22 sites open in Bernalillo County for that process were staffed by well-trained, well-equipped temporary staff. On Election Day, we got to our sites at 5:50 am. Every machine, voting booth, and computer had been set up before we arrived by another battalion of workers who went to each of Bernalillo County’s 72 voting sites.

Questions inevitably arise during the day at each of the voting sites, so well-trained workers are on hand at the Voting Hotline. Each call to the Hotline (I made ten myself) is answered quickly but politely, with any more difficult questions referred to a supervisor, probably a “colonel.” Travelling workers made their rounds of all of the sites, both to ensure the security of the process and the staff and to solve any computer issues that came up.

At the end of the day, Hotline workers were ready and eager to check with us to be sure that every ballot was accounted for – that the number of voters who had checked in agreed with the tally on the tabulators. Then, and only then, could the eight of us working at my middle-school location pack up the ballots and supplies, take down the voting booths and leave for the night, though one of our floor judges had already taken the memory cards from the voting tabulators down to the Voters’ Warehouse so that results of Bernalillo County’s election could be flashed to the world early in the evening.

My duty then was to pack the locked ballot boxes and box of supplies, including any spoiled, absentee or provisional ballots, and drive them to the Voter’s Warehouse at the other end of the city. There we were met by other battalions, including the strong young men hired to carry the ballot boxes and supply boxes into the building.

To our left as we entered the building was a security guard, and beyond him, the squadrons of workers scrutinizing and scanning the plentiful absentee ballots, as they had been doing for more than two weeks. And standing in front of them, leaning on her walker and smiling, was our wonderful General Stover, greeting each of the tired folks coming in the door behind their ballot boxes. The evening wasn’t over yet – there were four other steps, where groups of additional workers made sure that every detail of each site’s end-of-day work had been done. They were patient with the mistakes that many of us had made, and yet made sure we rectified them.

In my little squadron of eight were five Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. We worked together well as a team, thanks to the strong preparation of Ms. Stover and Ms. Toulouse Oliver and their staffs. I wish all of government would work as well and as harmoniously. Less than a week after Veterans Day, we salute the many election workers, veterans of a war that wasn’t.