‘We have to fight for democracy’: South Carolina poll workers face low turnout
Two old men sat in the dark on a bench outside Dunston Elementary School in North Charleston. South Carolinaand waiting a long day to start will be more peaceful than they deserve.
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Not many were expecting a strong turnout in South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Saturday. In opinion polls that preceded the elections, Biden received more than 90% support. The nomination race has no drama. But people still have to vote. The temperamental electoral system must prepare for this vote, even when it is not cast.
“We have some people who come here who don’t really know what to do, and I try to help them,” said Virgil Middleton, 74, a retired truck driver and Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. He fought for democracy, he said, “so that everyone can have a fair shot in the United States.”
Six poll workers entered the school gymnasium at 6 a.m., one of 2,351 precincts across the state, to clip zip ties — marked with serial numbers — on the ballot box and tamper with voting stations. They solemnly swore “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of this State and of the United States.”
Before sunrise, everyone will go home after dark. Robert Samuel Jackson, a 74-year-old retiree in North Charleston, said a poll worker’s take-home pay is about $167 a day. It is a military action. Four are military veterans. None of them are under 60 years old.
They all have known each other — and Annette Green, the precinct clerk — for years.
Greene didn’t have much time to speak Saturday morning, at least not before it became clear there wouldn’t be a rush of voters waiting their turn. The process of opening a polling site requires careful work to stave off accusations of tampering or fraud. Every broken seal on the machine has to be accounted for. Every person who touches the machine must be held accountable. Every ballot must be counted.
A few minutes before the polls opened, Greene took a stack of blank ballots out of a locked box and began counting them by hand, carefully wetting her fingers to separate each sheet from the next.
“We have to be here six hours before the polls open,” she said. It takes some time to pack up when the polls close at 7 p.m., and then transport the materials back to the elections office. “Then go stand in line. You have your communication package, your yellow bag, your black bin, your blue Insert your ballots, then stand in line and wait to be checked in.
“They check that you have returned all your zero tapes, keys, your communications package, and the flash drive with all the information. They make sure that you have checked in to all your groups. And after about an hour you can go home.”
Related: Despite low expected turnout in the South Carolina primary, voters are backing Biden
Greene handed the ballots into her hand after counting them — and recounted them again. She’s been doing this for 15 years. Her daughters have worked with her at the polls for years, too. One is a lawyer now. The other is in the Faculty of Law.
At 8.07am, just over an hour into voting day, Dunston Primary School had not yet seen its first voter.
“This has never happened before,” Green said. “But this is the first time we have worked on a Saturday.”
She suggested that early voting may have affected matters.
For Greene, democracy means freedom.
“We have to fight for democracy,” she added.
“I find it important for young children to learn. Democracy was not ours. We had to earn it, and we earn it when we teach our young children – like my daughter who came here to work on the electoral poll – I taught them how important it is to continue to encourage each other to get out And vote.”
Green checked in as the first voter at 8:21 a.m. He was a Biden voter — as expected.
“I was trying to figure out what time they would open,” Middlesex Villa, 72, said after the vote.
Fifty people had cast their votes at Dunston Primary School by 5pm. The district has 1,754 registered voters allocated to it.