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 Jeannette Logue of Shasta County described the mood as “very serious.”

Jeannette Logue, 73, joined the poll worker brigade in rural Shasta County 13 years ago after moving from the Bay Area, where she was a regional manager for the California Teachers Association. Her husband Mickey joined as well.

“We love doing it, especially up here,” Logue said. “We both believe in civic involvement and we believe in the power of the vote and accuracy.”

Every voter in California received a mail-in ballot for the November election but voting in person was an option. Shasta County had traditional polling places open on election day.

An upbeat atmosphere is the norm at the polling place she usually works, Logue said.

“This time seemed like a more subdued mood,” she said. “I felt that people really understood that this was a critical election. It was very serious. It was clear with all of the stuff in the press and social media that all eyes were on this election. It was a very different tone.”

Before the polls opened at 7 a.m., Logue looked out and saw the longest line she has ever seen as a poll worker, even accounting for social distancing in the pandemic.

“I went outside to say hello and establish the tone,” Logue said.

One family told her they wanted to use a voting machine instead of paper ballots because a rumor was circulating that paper ballots might not get counted.

“To me it’s misinformation, for them it’s a belief,” she said. “They didn’t trust the ballot and would vote on the machine.”

Poll workers must take a training session before each election so everything that happens conforms with election law, she said.

“It’s a system that has integrity,” Logue said. “There are so many ways to double check and count. When the misinformation is spread on purpose, it really is sad.”

Despite any skepticism, voters kept their cool. “There’s no overt anger,” Logue said. “Maybe a little bit of muttering. We just ignore it.”

Jeannette and Mickey Logue hold up the commemorative pins they have received over the years for their service as poll workers. Photo courtesy of Jeannette Logue

As a polling place inspector, Logue deals with any problems that might crop up, such as electioneering.

“One guy had a shirt with the name of a candidate,” Logue said. She smiled — a proven tactic — and said, “I’m sorry, no one can have anything with the name of a candidate or likeness.”

The voter, in his 30s, asked if he should go home and change his shirt. Logue told him to just wear it inside out.

“When he left, I went and thanked him for being such a gentleman,” she said. “He was a really nice guy about it.”

There were a lot of first time voters this election, she said.

“We had an 86-year-old man who was a first-time voter,” she said. “And we had a number of 18-year-olds. They’re always excited.”

Another polling place boon is young people who volunteer.

“They are so conscientious,” Logue said. “They take it so seriously. Voters who come to the polls, a lot are seniors, and they love seeing the young people there.”

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 Griswold

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,...