The Other Side of the Ballot–What it’s like Working in Voter Registration

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Eyes have been on South Carolina the last two weeks or so as it was our turn to hold the Republican and Democratic primaries. The Republican primary was held February 20th while the Democratic primary was just last weekend, on February 27th. As most people in the States are probably already aware, Donald Trump won our Republican primary and Hillary Clinton won our Democratic primary. Now, as many of my family and friends can tell you, I am not a super political person. However, I have started to pay more attention to things since I was fortunate enough to land an internship with my county working in the Voter Registration office. This means I’ve been working “behind the scenes” so to speak during the primaries. Most of my duties the last few weeks have revolved around helping people vote, scanning documents, and answering phones but I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Because both primaries were held on a Saturday instead of the usual Tuesday, more people than normal were coming into the office to vote absentee. While they usually came in waves, my co-workers and I were kept pretty busy keeping up with the influx of voters the last two weeks. Did you know that in South Carolina if you are 65 years or older you could vote absentee? This was something I learned after arriving and apparently not everyone knows this as the few people I mentioned it to seemed surprised to hear it. This group of people, aged 65 and over, probably made up the majority of absentee voters that both came into the office and called to request a paper ballot be sent to their house. The second most popular reason voters were coming in to vote early was because they would be out of town (what we had to mark as “vacation”).

I’m not sure what the absentee process normally looks like but for these primaries voters wanting to vote absentee had to have a qualifying reason to do so. There was a list of about 18 or so reasons that were considered acceptable for someone to vote absentee regardless of whether the absentee ballot would be cast in person or mailed in. For example, some of the more popular reasons I saw were 65+ years of age, physically disabled, vacation, employment, election worker, and caregiver. Our office also has an absentee mailing list that voters can request to be added to either for themselves or an immediate family member. This means that all ballots for the remainder of the year will be sent to the voter’s home which I think is nice particularly for those who are house bound or who find getting around to be difficult. This mailing list was something else I have only learned about since beginning my internship. For anyone who could benefit from such a list, it may be worth checking to see if your own voter registration office offers such a service.

The days of the actual primaries were fairly tame compared to the work-weeks leading up to them. Because of this, as well as the fact that South Carolina is a predominately Republican state, I only had to work the Republican primary. On the day of the election, the voter registration office essentially became home base or voter HQ. It is where the election workers at the precincts called with questions, where rovers called or stopped by to check-in or update the office on how things were going, and where extra supplies of everything were kept. Just about the only thing any of us did the first hour or so after the polls opened at 7am was field calls from precinct managers. Once the calls died down a little, most of us tried to catch up on the paperwork that had been interrupted or neglected during the week in favor of helping those who had come in to vote absentee or update their information.

The only people who were allowed to vote at our office (the Voter Registration office is considered a precinct) on the day of each primary were those who had moved but had not yet changed their voter registration information to match the new address. There were a handful of people who came in for that. I did not help count the ballots after the polls closed at 7pm but I did follow the results as they came in via CNN’s website, ETV Palmetto Scene’s Twitter account (@PalmettoScene), and the Twitter hashtag #SCPrimary. I was not necessarily happy with the outcome of both primaries but I can’t say that I was surprised.

The election results aside, it has been interesting working at the Voter Registration office so far. In addition to learning their databases and procedures, I’ve also started to learn a little about voting policies and all the work that is put in so that when voters go out to the polls to vote, they only have to press a few buttons. I think I definitely lucked out in being able to intern during such a huge year. It’s something I’ll be able to look back on years later and say that I contributed to the 2016 presidential election year, regardless of the size of my role.

❤ Rachel


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