In summary

CalMatters talked to volunteer poll workers and full-time staff members in the aftermath of November’s contentious election to see how their work differed from past elections. Poll worker Cheri Provancha of Tulare County used her military experience to keep things orderly at the polling place.

Cheri Provancha, 59, a volunteer poll worker in agricultural Tulare County in California’s Central Valley, is a retired Army colonel trained to achieve the objective in the face of adversity.

COVID-19 exposure worries at the polls? Not a problem for Provancha, inspector at a polling place in Visalia, the county seat. 

“I limited exposure,” she said. “The county provided us plexiglass shields. We had gloves and masks and sanitizer. I put out water with alcohol for people to put their pens in. I had a poll worker assigned to clean the voting booths.”

Tulare County switched to consolidated polling places open four days for the November election to deal with the pandemic.

“We maintained six feet of distance and did temperature checks,” Provancha said, and controlled the number of people coming into the polling place.

A handful of voters refused to wear masks. Again, not a problem for Provancha, now employed as a medical supply director for a hospital chain.

The maskless voter was directed to a voting booth away from everyone else. After the voter departed, “we’d disinfect the entire area,” she said.

Misinformation about ballots and voting was a constant factor for election officials in 2020 and Provancha said she spent much of her time discounting rumors.

Electioneering emerged as another issue. It’s prohibited to campaign within 100 feet of a polling place, but two voters in separate incidents wore clothes sporting the name of a candidate. They became uncooperative and aggressive about removing the clothing or covering up the candidate’s name, so police were called, she said.

Volunteer poll worker Cheri Provancha said misinformation and electioneering were some of the issues she encountered this election. Photo courtesy of Cheri Provancha
Volunteer poll worker Cheri Provancha said misinformation and electioneering were some of the issues she encountered this election. Photo courtesy of Cheri Provancha

“I had more issues with people being overly excited, or toxic, based on their enthusiasm for the candidate,” she said.

Additionally, “I had folks revving their engines and driving up and down in front of the site. I could see voters were uneasy,” she said. “They held fast. They exercised their right to vote.”

She asked police to stay nearby. But inside, the polls ran smoothly.

“I don’t think I had anyone wait for more than 15 minutes,” she said. She credited her fellow poll workers. “I couldn’t be prouder. They were rockin’ and rollin.’ They were awesome.”

New laptop computers connected to the voter database helped speed things along, too.

“That was the single best thing they improved on since March. It’s being able to see right then and there if they have already voted, or if it’s an address issue. All of that was fantastic,” she said.

Voters were engaged with the issues.

“Everybody seemed very excited to be there to vote,” she said. “It looked like they were there for a purpose. They were engaged in our process and our constitution, which was phenomenal.”

This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post, and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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Lewis is a Votebeat reporter covering election integrity. He lives in Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley. For 22 years, he was a reporter at The Fresno Bee covering agriculture, water, environment, police,...