“How are things going?” I asked. The head worker, an elderly African American man, paused.

“Fine,” he said, “except that guy sitting out there telling people how to vote and handing them stuff.” He showed me an Aimee Allison brochure that a voter had given him as she entered the poll. It was the same man that had been “snooping” earlier in the day.

I went to the door and spoke with the man sitting at the entrance. He was wearing an inside-out orange Allison t-shirt and held a plastic bag with UFCW written on it. I told him he needed to move to 100 feet from the entrance.

At this, the man jumped up and immediately became belligerent. He said, “I don’t have to move. I’m just sitting here. I’m allowed to sit here.” I told him that he was not allowed to campaign near the entrance. He then demanded to know who I was, and to know who had said he was campaigning. Soon, he was back inside the poll, challenging the elderly workers. He demanded to know their names (each was wearing a nametag with their first name on it) and got right in their faces.

I proceeded to call the Registrar of Voters to report the situation. They asked me to ask the man if he would speak to them. When he refused, they asked me to call the police.

While I was on hold, waiting for the police, several more workers with UFCW bags arrived. I naïvely assumed that “Orange Shirt” was simply a renegade, and that his associates would help control him. But when I explained the situation, they defended him, and insisted they all had the right to stand wherever they liked. At one point, when I was inside, the head poll worker went outside, and “Orange Shirt” insulted him and called the other worker (who happened to be the head poll worker’s mother) “senile.” Around this time, the older women told me they felt scared of the situation and were afraid to leave the poll at closing time.

Fortunately, there were few voters present during this time. I believed that if potential voters showed up, they might have been intimidated by the hostile situation and left without voting.

When I left the poll, the four campaigners all stood together, not far from the entrance. I avoided eye contact and crossed to the other side of the street. The man in the orange shirt then began chasing me. I ran to my car. He then ran to his car and began chasing me in it, laughing.

Just as I was pulling away, two men from the Registrar’s office showed up. I jumped out and quickly gave my version of the situation. Since “Orange Shirt” had left and only one of the four workers was still there, I was afraid that the Registrar workers might not understand the severity of the situation. But, in fact, the one remaining man with the UFCW bag immediately began arguing with the Registrar employees, and it seemed the problem at the poll was obvious.

I returned several hours later to the school, and all was calm. The workers said the police had come and taken a report. They indicated that the police had been helpful, and had given them the number for the Sheriff, to call in case of further problems.

I took two photos during the incident. Unfortunately, my hands were shaking at the time, and the pictures are blurry. Sigh. I didn’t do so well at documenting the incident. But I believe if I hadn’t intervened, “Orange Shirt” would probably have persisted all day with his activities.

I learned a lot from this experience. First, strong, well-trained leaders are needed at each polling place to control illegal campaigning.

Second, it appeared that workers for one candidate were targeting polling places in the poorer neighborhoods, and using aggressive and illegal techniques.

Third, there was no system set up for anyone to check the polls for problems throughout the day; I believe that the workers at each polling place were just told to call if there are problems. But sometimes, the workers did not seem to be aware that they should make a phone call to get help and, when they did call, the response was not necessarily speedy. I found that my calls to the Registrar’s office were much more effective than theirs had been. It seemed to me that the problem was not unresponsiveness by the Registrar’s office, but rather poll workers who were not given proper guidance about how to deal with emergency situations.

I am now curious about something. Are there any penalties for candidates who use illegal activities on Election Day? If not, I hope that documenting and publicizing these techniques might provide a deterrent for candidates in the future.