In December 2020, I read in the newspaper about some COVID-19 measurements for the upcoming elections for the house of representatives. It said there were extra polling station members needed, as polling stations now required an additional member. I thought "hey, that sounds fun, I'm going to volunteer!"
So that's what I did. I found out I was getting paid, which I didn't know, I thought it was voluntary. In my municipality it pays about 13 EUR excl. tax per hour, that's considerably above the minimum wage, nice. Plus 10 EUR for food. I followed a course which was 1.5 hours tops, and I learned something.
Of course there were countermeasures taken. Such as masks we had to change every 3 hours, a piece of plastic you can see through in front of the table you sit on, cleaning the polling booths every 30 mins, cleaning toilets after use, wearing gloves etc. Voters could also cast 3 instead of 2 votes for other people, and there was mail voting. Plus at 15 and 16 march there were also a few polling stations open. And in many municipalities you get a free red pencil.kiesraad
People had to wear an mask and disinfect their hands before entering. If they did not do that and lacked a medical reason, they wouldn't be allowed to enter. There is a special member whose task is to do that, and to clean.
Every member has a different task. One's task is to watch the booths and the ballot box(which looks like a trash bin btw), one checks the people who want to vote if their papers are OK(and is also tasked with watching the booths). And the chairman/head(can't find a correct word), who is responsible for... everything. Though we take turns(but the head stays the head of course)
Roughly 48 hours before my shift, I got a COVID-19 test to make sure I didn't accidentally infect others. I didn't have any symptoms or suspicion at all, but it was just to be safe, so I didn't accidentally become a superspreader.
That was quite an experience. I went with my bicycle to a big hall. There were lanes filled with cars with quite a queue, I was the only one on a bicycle between the cars, there were at least 30 of them. I had a nice chat with a man who registered me. He gave me a paper to blow my nose in. I heard the sound of starting engines constantly. I found it a strange idea that somewhere in these cars, there are people infected with SARS-CoV-2, but you don't know who. I also noticed a carbon-monoxide alarm. I saw a holder which held tubes with tests, which had a blue-black substance in it. A bold man correctly dressed in a suit and with a mouth mask and face shield comes towards me and stands really close to me. Oddly enough I found that somewhat pleasant, as standing close to people has become a rare occurrence nowadays. He asks me to open my mouth and to say "aaaaa". I do that: "aaaa-glup", he sticks something in my throat. This wasn't actually unpleasant at all. Next was the thing in my nose, of which I was slightly nervous about. He gives me a break, before he puts a stick which smells slightly weird into my right nose hole. It goes deep. As he reaches the top a stinging, burning feeling emerges. He holds it for a few seconds, as he counts, and the feeling spreads further on the right side of my head. I bend my head backwards slightly, which I did not intend to do. Then he releases it, and a tear appears from my right eye. The feeling is pretty dominant still. I thank him and I get on my bicycle, and start to cough. It was unpleasant, I felt slightly sickish afterwards. I drank some water. The feeling lingered, but got better over time. I asked some other people, they didn't feel as much harm as I did, I guess I was just sensitive and unlucky. Perhaps there was also a nocebo effect present. Quite an experience, I would do it again.
Anyways, after 10 hours the result was in: negative.
17 March 2021, 13:00. I packed my stuff and went on my bicycle to the polling station. Despite preparation, I was a little bit hasty and halfway there I realised I forgot my mouth mask. That didn't matter, as I got there a medical one, which by the way had to be renewed every 3 hours(or when taking it off).
We relieved the morning shift. It was on a small polling station, the morning shift members found it too quiet. We introduced each other, we watched how voters were being taken in and we relieved them. We also received a nice warm blanket, in case it got cold because of open doors.
Not much later, the chairman/head/idk got called that someone in her household was tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, so she had to leave. That meant that the morning shift head - who had been out of bed since 03:30 - had to come back and replace her.
It all started quiet, there weren't many voters. It was pleasant boredom, you talk to each other, and you are calm. I started my shift as the person who lets the people in and makes sure it wasn't too busy etc. Overall, people obeyed all rules, the vast majority of them did so by themselves without pointing it out. Occasionally one would forget to disinfect their hands, but they all did eventually. A few people made a comment such as "nonsense" or "doesn't work", but they did it anyways.
I find it a strange idea that it is highly likely I have seen people carrying the virus, even though they probably don't know it themselves.
There was this one person who entered the building, who looked like someone you wouldn't want trouble with. The person had a orange fluorescent jacket, and their hands were dirty with a black substance. The person disinfected their hands after asking. I showed them which paper-check booth to go. But what I didn't notice, is that they weren't wearing a mask! What a blunder, I failed my task! A paper-checker spotted it. Before I could say anything, the person went to get a mouth mask, straight through other people in line. "Did this person live under a rock?", a member asked when there were no longer voters present in the building.
What I also noticed was there was an entrance and an exit. And due to people's nature, people went automatically for the way the came in as their exit. So every time we had to point were the exit was. Quite interesting to observe this behaviour I think.
There was also a person who forgot the copy of the ID of the person for who they were voting for, namely their son. A member explained that you'd need it, a photo on the phone is also fine, and if they were to cast their own vote now, they could no longer cast the other. "Tear it apart", he said bluntly. After a confirmation it was ripped apart and the person went to vote for himself. 10 minutes later he got back with the ID of the person. "You told us rip it apart!". A lost vote.
Checking papers proved to take more time than I initially thought. You had to check birth date, name, if the voting pass was of the correct election, and if the voting pass ID wasn't marked as invalid, or if the ID was false or expired more than five years. If it was a vote for someone else then you had to check the authorization, such as names and signatures.
And there was of course, a lot of washing hands. I wore gloves most of the time, though they didn't breathe at all so that felt a bit uncomfortable after a while.
In the afternoon a lady from the municipality who managed the elections showed up asked if we were good and had a nice chat. Unfortunately we had ran out of tissues for people to dry their hands after disinfecting, so did the municipality. Oh well. She also brought a box of tidbits for each of us. What can I say, I love democracy! ;-)
Eating was done in turns. There were 5 members, one more than the minimum of 4, such as at any point, one could take a break. Eating was a bit hasty. Some decided to order some food at a local restaurant which delivers. I ordered some chips/fries, but I accidentally forgot to order a small portion, after which I was left with too much. I called my household if they wanted the remaining part, but they refused. Sigh. At this point there weren't really a lot of voters.
At 21:00 when everyone has voted, counting begins. The ballot bin is opened and the ballots go onto the ground. If there's a queue you have to let them in obviously, but since 20:25 only one or two voters showed up. Counting is a public process, but no visitors showed up.
The counting process reminds me of computer science. I wonder if computer scientists made this algorithm. Two rows of tables are made. Everyone gets a stack of ballots, first ballots are folded open and sorted on odd and even list numbers. A highly parallel operation, efficient. It is also where (the vast majority) of blank/invalid votes are separated, though our station barely had any. This was the most fun step, the sound of the ballots being opened, and then every time a surprise what party is being checked.
Then the rows of tables again. One row with odd, the other even. There is one table, the "feed-in" table as I call it, where votes are received. The table on the left is for the highest list(1/3 and 2/4), which are expected to be high again, therefore it's easy to have those near. The others are on the right side, with the higher list numbers increasingly further. The counter at the feed-in table looks, says what list it is and passes it on. That way it's checked two times, plus there's no walking.
I was the feed-in table, and the vast majority of ballots went to the left table. This proved inefficient for the counters on the right, they were doing little. In theory you could parallelize this further by making another row, but that also costs time and space etc. It is what it is. Then when everything is sorted, two people count the stacks. If there's a discrepancy it has to be done again. Which happened to me actually. On one list I accidentally counted 51 instead of 50. The person counted and got 50, so I counted it again and I came on 50, and he did it again just to be sure and also got 50. A trivial task proved to be difficult. I believe this was because I found the only invalid vote, which distracted me, and I accidentally counted it in my head.
Then counting at person level, the final step. One person counts them, says what person number it is, and the other one writes it down. There was again a discrepancy of one, likely because I got interrupted, someone asked a question. This was done again of course but then it was 50 again, so it was all good in the end.
When everything was counted everything needed to be put in envelopes and sealed. I noticed that 1.5 meters distance was not always being maintained at this point, however I did not think to say something about it, no idea why. I was tired, perhaps that's why. The head announced the results of the station and we signed the document. Around 00:00 everyone went home, except for the head who had been up for so long, he had to go to the town hall. I cycled home through empty streets because of the curfew.
There were a lot of parties participating this year, a record: 37 to be precise(may vary regionally), up 9 from the previous election.kiesraad The ballot was big.
4 new parties are elected, which makes 17 parties elected in total, a record.kiesraad Unfortunately I won't publish the results of the polling station where I worked, as that will probably lead to me doxxing myself.
As for the results of the polling station I worked for, it is interesting to see, since you it gives you an image of the aggregate political views of the voters in that area(I know "political views" aren't the correct words but I hope you know what I mean). There are always surprises, and it is exciting to see it happening in front of your eyes.
What I also liked about working at the polling station is that there is an apolitical mood. Members may not express their political views in the station. Voters may only do so when they don't influence other voters. This makes sense, as it should be a neutral place where voters are not being influenced. Members are only busy with one thing: let the elections happen. I found it relaxing.
What I also learned is that, really every vote counts.
Anyways, it was a great day and a lot of fun, especially considering this was in a lockdown. I will probably do this again.