Have you ever thought about what it takes to pull off an election, specifically Election Day?
Until 2 weeks ago, neither had I.
Motivated by a need to do more than just cast my ballot in the 2020 Presidential Election, I signed up to serve as a poll worker. I joined a team of 5,489 poll workers and 636 customer service ambassadors who would staff 324 polling locations in Franklin County on November 3.
The week prior to Election Day, I completed required training which included 1.5 hours online, 1.5 hours in-person, and a highly recommended in-person training titled Practice Makes Perfect. I might rename this training Practice Breeds Confidence as perfection seemed a stretch for this newbie!
My appreciation for what it takes to pull off an election grew immensely. The experience caused me to reflect on leadership lessons lived and learned throughout my career on what makes teams successful.
· Have a Clear and Common Purpose. The constitutional right to cast a vote for those who represent us — we the people — at the federal, state and local levels is the fundamental principle on which our democracy is built. Every person on our team was committed to ensuring each voter cast their ballot successfully.
· Strong Leadership is Vital. Leading a group of people charged with delivering an important outcome within 24 hours of meeting each other is rather extraordinary. Our Voting Location Manager and our Voting Location Deputy were knowledgeable, experienced, calm, patient, and collaborative. In my experience, organizations take on the character of their leaders and so was the case at our polling location.
· Build Confidence and Competence. The Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE) prepared us to be successful. We had quality training sessions, clear instructions, well-organized and timely-delivered election materials, and were supported by a team tasked with promptly responding to unique needs that arose during polling location set-up or on Election Day.
· Every Team Member Plays a Key Role. Each of us had a well-defined role, and all the roles were of equal importance. At a polling location, these roles include Voting Location Manager who is responsible for the entire operation at a specific poll; the Voting Deputy Manager who supports the Manager; Roster Judges who check-in voters, the Voting Machine Judges who assist voters in the mechanics of using the voting machines to cast their ballot; the Paper Ballot Judges who assist voters who must vote on a Provisional Ballot or who ask to vote a Regular Ballot on paper; and Customer Service Ambassadors who greet voters, answer questions, and offered personal protective equipment.
We were tested as a team first thing on Election Day by a couple unexpected circumstances that were resolved within the first hour of opening our doors. Our Managers showed the calm, cool confidence it takes to problem-solve, working with our off-site support team to get us on track as quickly as possible. The day progressed quite smoothly from there.
Because so many voters had voted early at the Early Voting Center or by mail-in ballot, the traffic at our polling location slowed considerably by mid-afternoon. Team members took lunch breaks, sanitized their stations, and spent the time getting to know one another.
On Election Eve, a dozen people arrived at our polling location to set-up for Election Day. We were strangers, and a majority of us were serving as poll workers for the first time. By the time we left our polling location late on Election Day, having welcomed and assisted hundreds of voters cast their ballots, we agreed we would all do it again, preferably together. We had earned our first stripe as a successful team!
Serving as a poll worker made it clear to me just how massive an effort it is to pull off an Election Day. People like my colleagues and me were serving voters at Ohio's 324 polling locations and in thousands of polling locations across the United States.
Experiencing this level of democracy in action – by the people and for the people – and doing so with colleagues I had met just 24 hours earlier was a powerful, instructive and memorable team experience.