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To the Man Who Shouted at Me About Stolen Elections

A poll worker responds to an angry heckler.
June 22, 2021
To the Man Who Shouted at Me About Stolen Elections
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

To the man who shouted at me about stolen elections,

Just thought I’d follow up about our recent encounter at the polling place where I’m a poll worker.

First, I’m glad you took the time to come to the fire station and cast your vote for mayor of Pass Christian, our beautiful little gem on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Good on you for making the effort.

Second, how dare you say, When do you start stuffing the ballot box?


Let me explain how this works. During our election on June 8, I worked the polls for our ward. My fellow poll workers (all women—go figure) and I had been in that hot fire station garage since 6 a.m., when we started setting up to open the polls at 7. All of us (even ones like me with years of experience) had gone through half a day of training, re-read and highlighted our voting manuals, and brought our own food and water knowing we’d be on our own for the next fourteen hours.

We were a happy group that morning. After a year of quarantine living, it was good to see unmasked neighbors, checking their names and IDs against the list of registered voters, chatting while we facilitated some local democracy.

And then you came along. I recognized you from the primary elections in early April. You came angry then, too, shouting about the stolen 2020 election, your young son trailing behind. Another poll worker (a man) humored you, nodding agreement: Hahaha . . . crazy times, huh? Stolen or not, you cast your vote and left.

Hard to let it go this time, watching you jam your ballot into the machine, which at first didn’t take it. I suggested you straighten it out and try again.

3:15 a.m., you said. That’s when the cheating starts.

The giant fans moving the hot air inside the garage made it unlikely anyone else heard you.

“No,” I said, “the election was certainly not stolen.”

Red-faced and all nervous energy, you seemed stunned. When your hands curled into fists, I backed away, wondering, were you armed? The heat suddenly felt oppressive. Would you be following up with threats, as others who share your beliefs have done this year?

You raged about what “they” did to steal the election from Donald Trump, a loop of Fox News verbigeration, as you kept looking around for someone willing to listen to your rant.

You don’t believe the last election was stolen? you asked.

Maybe you’re just a blowhard, but I didn’t feel safe. I also felt insulted.

You wouldn’t know this, but when the polls closed at 7 p.m. and you were home eating dinner with Tucker Carlson, we were still closing up. We printed out the paper tape, a detailed audit log that’s timestamped with all actions and events that occurred throughout the day on the ballot-counting machine, including any access attempts or errors. After each of us reviewed the tape, we signed it. We counted leftover ballots, double-checked the vote count, sealed the transparent carrier bag with the USB stick, zip-tied the blue ballot box, locked and secured the machine, took down the ward maps, sample ballots, and COVID precaution instructions, then loaded everything up to take to city hall.

Pass Christian uses the DS200 paper-based scanner and vote tabulator. If we ever discover that one of our machines have been hacked or a ballot has somehow been “stuffed,” I’ll eat my hat. I’ll even eat yours and Tucker’s too.

It was rigged, you repeated, shouting over the fans. All the elections are rigged.

“I’m sorry you believe that,” I said. And I was honestly sorry for you. You have been fed a steady diet of lies and distortions about the integrity of our voting system, and you felt you had to demean yourself, and me, and my fellow poll workers with your baseless accusations about rigged elections.

Your vote was accepted, and on the machine’s screen an animated American flag unfurled, a signal of success. “Thank you for voting.”

I handed you an “I voted” sticker and off you went, muttering back to your car.

Throughout the day, between brief surges of voters, my fellow poll workers and I stood to stretch and discuss ways to lose our own “covid 19s”—the extra pounds put on over the last year. We talked about our children and grandchildren, husbands, line dancing, and the sofa we wanted to donate to the firemen because theirs is so ratty. We didn’t discuss politics. We were there to do a job.

By the end of the day, only 214 of the 829 registered voters in Ward 2 voted.

We worried over the low turnout and thought that voting should be easier for people who work during the day. Why not vote on Saturdays? Why not make election day a day off? How can we better regulate mail-in voting and early voting to alleviate unfounded suspicions? We were thinking out loud, knowing there’s a voting problem, and that problem is made worse by angry, misled people like you.

According to a recent report from the Center for Election Innovation & Research, Mississippi is among the worst states in the nation for voting access.

And last year’s election was deemed the most secure in American history.

I consider working at the polls an important democratic civic service. I want to work with these fine poll workers again at the next election, but that’s unlikely. People like you make us quit. There’s even talk of outrageous fines and penalties for poll workers. Add threats and intimidation to this low-paying, fourteen-hour day, and, well, you get the picture. Maybe you’ll replace me.

Our last voter arrived at exactly 7 p.m. Once the machine accepted her ballot, she slapped the “I Voted” sticker on her blouse, and ran to the parking lot shouting “Freedom!” Every single one of us smiled.

So, yes, I feel sorry. I’m sorry that you didn’t feel the same burst of freedom after you voted, that same sense of pride in our American democracy. I’m sorry that a certain someone stole that from you.

Margaret McMullan

Margaret McMullan is the author or editor of nine award-winning books, including the novel In My Mother’s House, the anthology Every Father’s Daughter, and the memoir Where the Angels Lived.