Answering phones on days preceding an election and on Election Day attracts a number of enthusiastic volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Fresno, and I’m one of them. Under the direction of Liz Shields, our vice president for voter services, we sign up for shifts at the Elections Office phone bank that range from two to many hours. It’s not just that we feel it’s a civic duty to fulfill; it’s actually fun and interesting.
We receive training each year because the Elections Office is always improving its telephone and computer system. No more lost calls when we transfer a caller to a supervisor; no more hunting on endless screens to find whether a voter is really registered.
This year during one four-hour shift I logged 53 telephone calls from anxious voters. As you might imagine, the post popular question is, “Where do I vote?” This really shouldn’t be a problem because your sample ballot gives you that information. Many people don’t look for it, lose it, throw it away, or can’t understand why it is not the same polling place as in years past. The reason for the change is that the Elections Office designates polling places partly on population, partly on availability of sites.
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Some interesting calls require supervisory support. A convicted felon wanted to know whether he could vote. The answer is no, and not if you are on parole. But someone on probation can vote. Convicted felons must re-register when they finish serving their sentences.
A common concern is what to do with an absentee ballot that hasn’t been sent back; now it’s Election Day and the voter is afraid to mail it because it might not arrive in time to be counted. In fact, there is a grace period of three days after Election Day; since Election Day is always on a Tuesday, your ballot will be counted if it is postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday.
One caller said she had an absentee ballot but thought they were only counted if the vote is close. Then she added that all her friends believed that, too. I asked where they learned this and she answered, “the Internet.” I assured her the closeness of the vote had absolutely nothing to do with it. All ballots that arrive on time are counted. I hope she believed me.
When volunteers arrive at the phone bank, we sit at an individual desk with a computer, a pad and pen to make notes, and a small stack of papers. One sheet has a list of elections employees and their phone numbers to whom we can transfer tough calls. Several sheets have a list of polling places by zip code since some callers are at work and want to vote near their place of business, rather than from home. Other sheets contain basic information about voting. An employee is in the phone bank room to assist with unusual questions.
Some callers have tried to vote at the polls and are told they are not listed. We usually find them in the computer and instruct them to return to their polling place and ask for a provisional ballot, which allows you to vote even if there has been a clerical or processing error. The ballot is inspected and checked to ensure the voter is in fact registered before it is counted.
You should know that calling at 7:58 p.m. to learn your polling place, when the polls close at 8 p.m., is not going to work. Nor is reporting that you want to go back to the polls to change your vote.
This year a new provision allows for same-day registration. You can walk in at the main Elections Office in Fresno, register on the spot, and vote – with a provisional ballot.
We will be looking for more phone bank volunteers for the general election in November. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can also help check-in absentee ballots for some days before and after Election Day. While performing an interesting and worthwhile community service, you’ll also meet others who are like-minded, so call the league at 226-8683 to volunteer.
Francine M. Farber is a retired school district administrator and a full-time community volunteer. She is a past president of the League and a long-time member of the League’s Board of Directors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.