Election Precinct Officials Tested by Sneaky Voters

Jonathan, above, who declined to give his last name, is seen lowering his political flag to comply with state law prohibiting election campaign messages within 100 feet of where people vote. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — Several years after World War II, a woman volunteered to serve her county as an election poll worker and was surprised that she got paid. Imagine her surprise now.

Some voters “test” county poll workers on their enforcement of rules such as the prohibition against candidate campaign paraphernalia within a 100-foot boundary of where Americans vote, Davidson County poll official Robert W. Catlin reports.

One voter presented himself to vote wearing a T-shirt with words saying “Trump Likes Russia” on the front, but written in Cyrillic letters, Catlin said. Cyrillic is like the Greek alphabet with nearly 12 more letters for Slavic sounds.

Catlin knows that language because he was a U.S. Army captain in Bosnia with a Serbian interpreter, so he knew to tell the voter to stop displaying 45’s name before entering the poll even though it was in a foreign language, he said.

One might wonder if a political candidate’s name written in Chinese or Japanese on a shirt could be worn all the way into a voting booth.

In Columbia, a Biden-Harris advocate shouted at a man in a Navy veteran ball cap who parked his truck just inside the 100-foot boundary. A Trump flag was waving in the breeze from a staff stuck in a fence post hole at the truck’s tailgate. The man, who would only give his first name, Jonathan, lowered the Trump flag into the bed of his pickup truck after being chastised by the Democrat. It would seem as though that veteran doesn’t use the law to protect the secrecy of his vote for president.

COVID-19 masks are required at Davidson County polls. Candidate names can’t be on the face of masks, Catlin said, apparently advising a voter to flip it or skip it. Another voter didn’t want to wear a mask and grumbled under a mask she pulled from her purse. “She was prepared” to put a mask on, Catlin said. Several voters have tried to enter the polling place while wearing a hat with the president’s name above the bill. Another was asked not to display his hat with the words “Make America Great Again.”

Under a GOP tent along Tradewinds Drive — it leads to the Maury County Election Commission office — a man offered a mask with Trump’s face printed on cardboard making it suitable for a trick-or-treat costume without protection against disease.

COVID-19 prompted Davidson County protections including stir sticks so voters don’t have to touch voting machine surfaces, Catlin told The Tennessee Tribune. Every voter Catlin helped replied “no” when asked CDC screening questions during early voting. If a voter: Replied “yes;” Was positive; Or awaiting test results, then they were to be asked to step away from the line and await service another way in a separate room or place such as a seat in their car, he said. Photo IDs were to be received in plastic sandwich-bags at Davidson County early voting polls.

Catlin explained this procedure to early voters at the Hermitage Library, but everybody replied “no” when he asked screening questions.

A good-humored poll worker might ask: Have you recently returned from a foreign county, perhaps China, Russia or Elbonia?; Have you been in contact with someone who’s caught ‘The Covid?’; Can you say “no” to nearly a dozen other questions in CDC guidelines to screen people before they go into a hospital, doctor’s office, or other public places such as the state’s Snodgrass Building?

It was unclear whether sick or potentially infected early voters could have been provided an opportunity to use a provisional ballot to vote early. The communications office for the Secretary of State was asked for clarification from state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins. Within 48 hours the office replied, “Coordinator Goins is very pleased with the hard work the poll officials have done. We’ve had a record turnout during early voting, and he’s focused on Tuesday.”

At least two election officials — they spoke on a condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized government spokes-people — said state law prohibits distribution of mail-back ballots to citizens at early voting polls.

Election Day can include drive-in voting because of COVID-19.

“I grant statewide approval for the county election commission office to be designated as a voting place for any voter with COVID-19 symptoms,” Goins said in an Oct. 26 memo to all county election commissions.

Drive-in voters are advised to be ready to prove they’re infected, or have COVID-19 symptoms to election officials where a county established a drive-in poll.

About Clint Confehr 253 Articles
Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area began in the summer of 1980. Clint's covered news in several Southern states at newspapers, radio stations and one TV station. Married since 1982, he's a grandfather and is semi-retired from daily news work.