I spent last Friday at the county courthouse training to be an election worker for the 2016 election.
Under most circumstances in my life, except for standing in 110+ degree heat in line at the Clark County Courthouse getting a marriage license, a trip to the courthouse usually conjures negative feelings and problems -- paying parking and traffic fines, jury duty summons, and a medical bankruptcy over a decade ago.
But this was a largely interesting, pleasurable experience -- getting to know a part of politics I'd only seen from the casting side of the ballot box.
How our balloting is actually secured at the county level.
This is always 'strike one' against anyone claiming widespread balloting fraud. The entire process is hyper-decentralized, even in Kansas (a smaller population state) the 105 separate counties conduct the elections, then send results 'up-stream,' ultimately to the secretary of state's office for certification.
It would be far too difficult to create a massive conspiracy with that many 'players' actively trying to rig elections.
Voters are given several choices on how to cast votes -- mail-in advance ballots, early balloting at select sites, election day balloting on voting machines, voting on paper ballots, and voting on provisional ballots.
Provisional ballots serve as a safety net to ensure that the ballot box is secure and 'sacred,' but that voters have the maximum opportunities to cast their ballots -- during canvassing, provisional ballots are researched in an effort to prove that the voter should have been able to vote, but did not have something correct on election day (recent moves, lack of photo ID, choosing to vote in person rather than using their mail-in ballots, or any number of reasons).
Canvassing is also where the county matches total votes cast to total voters participating -- 'stuffing ballot boxes' would be caught during this phase of the election.
As a post-graduate student and researcher, the hyper-protocol driven nature of the process is very comforting. There is literally a protocol for almost any conceivable event, leaving little to chance or the discretion of local election site judges.
One particularly interesting protocol is that it always takes two election workers, from different political parties, to adjudicate a matter.
These matters could be a person leaving the site without finishing their ballot, forgetting to press confirm, an ADA compliant ballot casting that needed special help from election workers, and many more -- one person doesn't make decisions that could alter the election.
After the 2000 elections, where 'hanging chads' became an overnight vocabulary word, many states passed laws on 'voters intentions' at the ballot box -- and even an incomplete ballot is seen as a voter's intention to cast a ballot. But it still takes two people with 'supervisory keys' to cast this ballot once the person has left.
This is 'strike two' against widespread fraud claims. The protocols are so deeply developed and followed that balloting fraud of this type or even cancelling votes would be nearly impossible and easy to catch.
Probably the single hardest part of Election Day is keeping up with changing the rolls of paper on the voting machines -- that 'eat' enormous amounts of paper as each ballot it cast.
But these paper-tapes leave the paper trail, in case a situation arises where the ballot numbers from the end-of-day tally need to be compared to the actual tapes.
The protocols involved with this include ensuring that each machine is set to 'zero' votes at the beginning of the day, that the tapes keep getting replaced as needed, and then printing the final voting report after the polls close.
Election Day is a long day. Starting at 4:45 am (polls open at 6 am) and ending with the last person in line at 7 pm.
And problems do happen -- but largely issues that are handled by giving the voter a provisional ballot, usually caused by moves outside of the boundaries.
Tempers can flare while electioneering laws are enforced -- a 250 ft. politic-free area around the voting site is maintained, with some misunderstanding the intent of these laws.
All this and the election workers can't leave the site during the day, as they are all part of the 'chain of custody' of the election materials, making for a long day of sack lunches, delivery foods, and dedicated work.
I'm impressed by the system. It maximizes vote safety, while still giving every single person the option to cast a provisional ballot to be assessed during canvassing. But more importantly, I'm impressed by the people who work year after year at election sites -- long hours, impatient voters, and the enormous responsibility of keeping our balloting safe.
Because in the end, it really is our neighbors who maintain the sanctity of the ballot box -- people taking time out of their busy schedules to ensure that America's single greatest institution is kept both fair and safe.
This year as you vote, perhaps you should thank your local poll workers for the efforts they are giving, and even consider donating some time for the next election.
Because with great rights always comes great responsibilities. We should all make safe elections one of our top priorities.