Peter Madden | Sheboygan, WI
I kind of understood how elections work, but there’s nothing like being behind the scenes to understand exactly how it goes. I think people have the idea that elections are somehow run on a national level. But it’s not, it is very, very local. Really it comes down to four or five people in a municipal clerk’s office. Having been involved in parent commissions and advisory boards when my kids were in school, this seemed like the next step in civic responsibility. And it’s been very pleasant.
I’m in the Southwest corner of Sheboygan, our polling place has three active wards. It’s a wonderful location in a Lutheran church. We always get a good turnout at our polling place, generally a little bit higher than the state average. I think that is because our demographic is slightly older than the state average. I am one of the chief inspectors in my ward and contact people to work the polls. This past Spring we had a tie election in one local race, so I was involved with the Board of Canvassers to determine the winner. First, we reviewed the ballots to see if all the ballots that were cast were counted and if any ballots were missed. Once that was confirmed, we knew we actually had a tie. So we had a meeting, which was publicly posted, the candidates attended and agreed upon a mechanism to break the tie. The candidates chose to draw cards and the high card was the winner. I don’t remember the exact cards; I think somebody drew a five and somebody drew a seven. So even the card draw was close.
Leading up to the election, I work with the city clerk to send out absentee ballots. I am amazed at how much work goes into it. You know, they come in, you’re putting addresses on two envelopes. You’re making sure that each packet is complete and that the voter information is correct. When the ballots are returned, they’re sorted by alphabet, then they’re sorted by ward. If you think about election day; somebody walks in, you give them a ballot, they fill it out, it goes into the tabulator and you never touch it again. But for the absentee ballots, there is so much physical labor taken to get those out and to properly secure and manage them when they are returned. And with the extra tracking, it means that at any given time you know where the ballot is.
I think all the talk about absentee ballots is a way to sow distrust in the system. At least in Wisconsin, I am not aware of any situations where problems in voting or the legitimacy of voting have been traced to absentee ballots on any level significant enough to change an election. So I don’t know what would cause people to think that it’s a problem. But I’ve been involved with absentee ballots from start to finish. So I see them from the point of sending out the ballots, to receiving them, to counting them, to making sure that people are on the voter rolls, and that the ballots are kept secure until Election Day when they’re added in with all the other ballots and counted.
I can only speak from my experience in Sheboygan, but I have no doubt or concern about the validity of the ballots. I think it’s done very well. If you are a voter in a polling place it might look to you like not much is going on. Maybe you spend 30 seconds voting and leave. But like anything, the more you know about something, the deeper your understanding. We are paying attention to about eight different details that have to be addressed for every single vote. I’m pleased to have observed how things work and I try to help other people understand.
I think if people did take the time to understand what the voting process actually is that would help them understand and have a higher level of comfort in the outcome of the election. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people are concerned about the validity of an election, but I think they should start from a basis of, how does it actually work? Some of the things they think are happening aren’t even possible. I don’t have any problem with people being watchful about our elections, as long as they haven’t already decided there is a problem before they see one.
I think there are so many opportunities for people to engage in their community. There are many other ways that people can understand their community and their neighbors that they can engage in. Whether it is sitting at a polling table, or through your church, or through service organizations, just connecting with your neighbors. There are so many ways that we can knit together a community. Not that we’re all like-minded or have the same goals in mind or the same experiences, but we are all here living in the same few square miles. And I think it benefits us all when we can connect
Peter’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Poll Worker series. Through this series we want to draw back the curtain on who makes our elections possible and introduce you to a few of the unsung heroes of the democratic process.
What exactly does a Poll Worker do? Poll Workers facilitate the right to vote and maintain order at the polls. They ensure that our elections are open, fair, impartial, and trusted. The Wisconsin Elections and Ethics Commission has a list of Frequently Asked Questions to describe the duties and qualifications to be a Poll Worker.
Regular people from neighborhoods around the state volunteer to be Poll Workers. If you are interested in being a Poll Worker you sign up through your municipal clerk. Here is a list and contact information for Wisconsin’s municipal clerks.