An inside view from a Voting Location Manager on Tuesday’s election in Ohio

November 13, 2023 4:30 am

A voter at a ballot maker machine. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

“I’ll be honest. I’m here for the weed.” So said one of the voters who showed up on Tuesday at the polling location in Columbus I had volunteered to manage.

Yeah, he was all in for Issue 2.

His comment wasn’t much of a surprise to me and the hard-working team of volunteers who were helping Linden area voters cast their ballots. As soon as he entered the lobby of the church where we had set up voting machinery, the distinct odor of marijuana drifted in along with him.

It was one of the more amusing moments in an unusual election.

Those moments started well before Tuesday. 

On Sunday morning, after picking up a small packet of official gear, including a thumb drive for the voting tabulation machine, I went to 11 o’clock Mass at our parish. 

On the altar was a surprise — a large video screen. I remarked to my wife that even though the real presence of Christ is supposed to be in Holy Communion, I doubted that we would have the added benefit of a Zoom call from the King of Kings.

Wise cracks aside, we anticipated that Bishop Fernandes was going to make a virtual appearance, and we were correct. So, when it came time for the homily, the bishop made his pitch to our parish, urging us to vote “No” on Issue 1. 

At the end of his address, a few people clapped, and one person booed. You don’t see that every Sunday.

To be clear, it’s not unusual for our parish to applaud during Mass. On that day, after we received Communion, for example, the choir performed a rousing Swahili hymn that was met with an enthusiastic reception. But the contrast between the two reactions was striking, and one choir member later quipped, “Well, I guess we hit fewer wrong notes than the bishop.”


A day later, I set foot for the first time in the voting location I was going to manage — or in the Board of Election terminology, where I was the VLM (that’s Voting Location Manager).

Confusion might have ensued, but luckily, the volunteers who were working with me were tremendously capable. So we set up quickly on Monday night and returned in the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday to await voters.

One worker was so determined to put in a lot of effort that when she discovered that she would be a “floater” — that is, wait for one of the other workers to take a break and then fill in — she decided to leave. But because the location was small, covering only one precinct, her departure turned out to have little impact.

That didn’t prevent us — or rather, full disclosure, from me — from making a mistake. It happened when one of our Roster Judges (the person who signs in voters) asked me about a couple who had offered their photo IDs and had given their address in the precinct. But the Roster Judge happened to be pointing to the list of addresses and not to the list of registered voters for that precinct. And they weren’t in the latter list.

By the time I realized my mistake, the couple had voted and we had registered their ballots. 

I was apoplectic, and immediately wrote a note to the Board of Elections pointing out my mistake. But I quickly realized that it was very likely that they were registered voters, and simply had gone to the wrong voting location. That’s because of the more than 200 voters who cast their ballots in my small voting location, roughly 10% walked in with a preprinted slip of paper explaining that they had been sent from another location — one where they had previously voted — and were now assigned to vote in our polling place. 

How many people simply gave up in frustration rather than make the trip to our location was impossible to say. But it was disheartening to see this steady stream of bewildered voters trudging through the doors.

One voter, a Somali woman who couldn’t speak English, would not be denied. When she realized that we did not have multi-lingual ballots she left — and hours later she returned with another woman who translated for her.

As she left, I thought about my mother’s father, who had emigrated from Italy 100 years ago. As soon as he became a citizen, he made very sure to vote, in every election. I was glad to see that a new generation was making the same effort.



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Tim Feran
Tim Feran

Tim Feran is a native of Cleveland and a graduate of Harvard University. For more than 40 years he has been a professional journalist, first at the Lorain Journal, then for 30 years at The Columbus Dispatch, and currently as a freelance writer. He lives in Columbus with his wife, Maryellen O’Shaughnessy, Franklin County Clerk of Courts.