Marquette City Clerk Kris Hazeres stands next to the city’s new secure box for absentee ballot applications.

Story and photos by Katherine Larson.

November 6 is Election Day! This is the day for each of us to claim the full power given to us by the Constitution: to cast our votes, to express our opinions, to exercise our sovereignty as “we the people.” It’s a great opportunity; take advantage of it and vote.
And when you vote, take a moment to pay attention to the people who are there to help you. They are all fellow citizens who have chosen to spend a very long day helping the election run smoothly.
Audrey Warren is one of them. She has been an election inspector, first in Chocolay Township and then in Marquette, for at least 35 years; now she is a precinct co-chair, readily recognizable to the regular voters of Precinct 5. Of her work, she said, “It’s really worthwhile. It’s a very interesting, rewarding experience. And it’s essential to making democracy run—to have an honest, fair election.”
Another election regular is Beth Gruber. She started helping with elections after her father, former City Clerk Norm Gruber, retired about a dozen years ago. “I had just graduated college and didn’t have a full-time job yet and said sure, I’d do it.” Now she does have a full-time job, but she still takes vacation days to serve as election inspector when needed, explaining, “For me, it’s my democratic responsibility.” It’s also fun for Gruber, especially when small children come in with their parents to see democracy in action.
For Rich Dombroski, a retired social studies teacher, “it’s an opportunity to help out and give back.”
Election inspectors are paid for their day’s work, but not much more than minimum wage, and the day is strenuous. What stands out from conversations with these election inspectors and with Marquette City Clerk Kris Hazeres is the level of dedication that fuels them.
Hazeres’ ultimate goal is straightforward: “My hope is that people will walk in, will vote, and will leave happy—to make it a simple and happy experience with a fair outcome.” Getting to that goal, however, can be anything but straightforward.
Planning begins long before Election Day. Warren said, “Kris works really hard on making sure everything is well organized.” Dombroski agreed, praising her multiple back-up systems of “checks and balances,” her effective training sessions, and the famous “black notebooks” that hold everything an election inspector needs to know.
Hazeres also hires the election inspectors. Besides the regulars, Hazeres said, “We’re recruiting all the time, right up till the last minute.” For the City of Marquette alone, she needs 60 to 65 workers for each election. Application forms are available online, both on the website of the City Clerk’s office and on the website of the Michigan Secretary of State.
Hazeres and Dombroski described the ideal election inspector in a kind of call-and-response: “They need to be accurate,” she began. “Pay attention to detail,” he chimed in. “A business background helps, especially being able to work with computerized voter records and machines like the tabulator,” she added. “And you have to be able to work with the public,” he said. “You have to be conscientious, have a good work ethic, and follow through,” she emphasized.
In the opinion of Dombroski, himself a former teacher, retired teachers are ideal because they are used to dealing with groups, they pay attention to detail, they understand the importance of record-keeping, they are comfortable with repetition, and above all they are patient.
Stamina also helps. Hazeres said, “It’s a very long day—they have to arrive at 6 a.m. and then stay, working, for as long as seventeen hours.”
What do they do for all that time? Warren described it from her perspective. Starting an hour before the polls open, “you set up the computers and get the tabulator ready. You run a zero tape, confirming that there is nothing in the bins and the tabulator’s showing no votes. You compare the serial numbers on the computer and the memory card with the numbers in the poll book. You take a sample ballot and confirm that everything on the zero tape appears in the order it appears on the sample ballot. You put pens in the voting areas, and get the applications ready. And, of course, you swear to uphold the constitution.”
Then the doors open, and in come the voters. Some need to be steered to the right precinct. Some need the ballot explained to them. All need to sign an application, then hand their driver’s license or other picture identification to the election inspector who is staffing the computer.
Warren far prefers the computer to the old paper poll books. She said, “The computer pulls up the voter’s name, address, and birth date. It’s good. We have families that include people with the same name, and the computer pulls up the right person automatically.”
Hazeres stressed security: “Sometimes people are concerned that when we look at their driver’s license we see everything in their life. Not so. We only scan the license to verify their birth date and address, and we look at the picture to confirm it’s them. The system is not connected to the internet in any way at all.”
Warren continued, “Then the voter gets a ballot, and the ballot number is entered into the computer.” Another election inspector helps the voter find a free booth in which to vote. If—like this year—the ballot is a long one, voters will be reminded to cast their vote on both sides of the paper.
After voting, the voter places the ballot into the tabulator (which, like the computer, is not connected to the internet at all). Ideally, the tabulator swallows the ballot, registers the votes, and scans the ballot itself to make sure there’s a record of how it actually appeared. In the real world, here is where election inspectors spend a lot of time helping out.
Ballots get crumpled. Ballots get mismarked (the tabulator insists that ovals indicating a voter’s choice be completely filled in, and will reject, for example, simple checkmarks). Voters get confused, especially in primary elections when Michigan law insists that they limit their vote to candidates from only one party.
“That’s a real problem,” Gruber said. “People forget they can’t cross the party line, and then they get angry. Like in the 2016 primary election, a lot of people tried to vote both in the Republican congressional race and for sheriff, but all the sheriff candidates were listed as Democrats. The tabulator couldn’t accept the cross-party voting. People were upset. Some blame the election workers, but it’s not our fault. I tell them to contact their state representatives to try to get the law changed. It’s our job to uphold the law.”
For people whose registration is not recorded in the computer, the precinct co-chairs refer them to Hazeres’ staff at City Hall, where detailed back-up records are maintained. With Marquette being a university town, she said, there are two common registration issues: students who forget that they have to vote in the location of their registration, which may be back home or even in another state; and students who think they registered through the auspices of a student group, only to find that the group did not send the paperwork on to the clerk’s office.
Hazeres said, “We work with student groups at Northern to emphasize that they need to do the registration paperwork right. People who register should know that if you actually got registered, you should get your voter ID in the mail a week to ten days [after] our office receiv[es] the information. If you don’t get that, check! Call our office, or check your registration status online.” She added, “We’re delighted that a branch of the League of Women Voters has started up in this area. They’re very helpful, and we’re eager to support them however we can.”
Back at the precinct level, it’s the job of the election inspectors to keep the line flowing smoothly so that everyone gets their chance to vote, while dealing fairly with any glitches that may arise along the way. Many glitches are, by design, dealt with on a bipartisan basis: two election inspectors, one from each of the two major political parties, will work together to get the problem fixed. Gruber loves that aspect of her work: “People from both parties working together with the same goal of making sure the election is fair, working cooperatively together.”
Meanwhile, all day long, Hazeres and her deputy go from precinct to precinct to check on progress.
Finally, 8 p.m. comes and the polls close. Anyone waiting in line gets their chance to vote, and then the election inspectors shift gears. Gruber said, “We print off five copies of all the tapes out of the tabulator. We seal everything up into its proper box or bag. We check off the voter list and the list of what ballot number each voter got, and we make sure every single ballot is accounted for. If there are write-ins, we deal with them. Everything has to be properly signed and sealed, and all the election inspectors have to sign in the book, attesting that nothing untoward happened. Of course, all day long we’ve been making intermediate counts of ballots and tabulations, and we’ve also been making notes of any incidents that might occur. Finally everything gets properly sealed up. Then the co-chairs take it all to City Hall, where a bipartisan group opens it, checks it all, and reseals it with fresh seals before sending it off to the Canvassing Board.”
Hazeres, who by this time is back at City Hall managing the staging area where it all arrives, is sympathetic to the precinct workers. She said, “There’s a real sense of accomplishment for the precinct when the ballots are all in. If the numbers come out right on at the end of the evening, without any need to untangle loose ends, there’s a lot of hooting and hollering.” She herself feels the same sense of accomplishment the next day, after the canvassing board certifies the city results: “The canvassing board makes sure all the i’s got dotted and all t’s got crossed, then off it all goes. That feels really good.”
Asked about the possibility of fraud, Hazeres was firm: “There is no voter fraud in Marquette.” Dombroski agreed, saying, “There are so many checks and balances that it sometimes even seems over the top. But it works. There’s no voter fraud in our precincts at all.” Warren added, “I can’t believe the amount of double-checking we have to do, ballot by ballot. It gives me a real sense of confidence in the accuracy of our results.” And Gruber said, “I can’t do anything about Russian hacking anywhere else, but I can make sure my precinct gets done right. And it does. We’re so careful about counting and recounting and recounting. We’re responsible for every single ballot the precinct receives, and we account for every one.”
“This is democracy,” Gruber said. “Use it. Vote.”

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