This post is an open letter to the NYC Board of Elections (BOE), Queens County, Poll Workers Department. For the past month, I have worked as an Assistant Trainer for the BOE. It was my responsibility to assist in training individuals to work on election day as basic poll workers. The BOE provided me with a journal so that I could report any problems observed during training classes. For privacy reasons, I opted not to use the journal. I decided to use this blog instead of the daily journal to offer some advice. Over the last few years, the BOE has made great strides in improving its poll worker program. The running of elections has become more professional. There is still room for some improvement. This year’s training cycle is coming to an end for me.
This year the BOE, once again, provided me with excellent instruction for my assistant trainer position. The lead trainers were extremely knowledgeable on how to best instruct the students. They taught the required administrative procedures and the importance and value of working as a team with others. The manual and training materials that the BOE provided me were well written, logically organized and designed to instill confidence. The BOE’s tweaks and substantive changes to its poll worker programs have paid huge dividends.
Effective trainers and training assistants generally possess certain characteristics. They are excellent communicators and welcome challenging learning curves. The two must think creatively to overcome unforeseen circumstances. Besides being well-versed in the subject matter they are teaching, the individual team members must constantly project energy and enthusiasm to hold trainees’ attention. Lastly, the trainer and their assistants must understand conflict resolution practices and theories. Being a successful trainer requires overcoming many challenges .
If asked did our trainers and assistants make the grade this training cycle I would say, generally speaking, yes.
I believe that the training of poll workers should be a meritocracy. The BOE should hire only people as trainers and assistants that have the required skills, regardless of their political connections. Those who underperform should be dealt with accordingly. I do not know the metrics the BOE uses to evaluate its trainers and assistants. I suggest that the BOE should start using surveys to understand what people are thinking about the poll worker training program.
There are several areas where the BOE could improve its poll workers training program:
I realize that team members have different levels of competency. We perform our duties using distinct styles. This summer I worked with some trainers and assistants who performed admirably. They knew their material and responsibilities. These workers delivered a superior customer service experience. I could see on the poll workers’ faces as they left the training session that they approved of the training. From these teammates, I learned how to improve my performance.
The success of the BOE’s poll working training sessions depends on trainers and assistants being able to meet their job’s requirements. Some trainers lacked a thorough knowledge of the training material. They were unsure of themselves. They rendered inferior customer service and did not work as a team. For some, their teaching skills were not up to the task. Should these people be asked to return next season?
Some assistants trainers were either unsure of what to do or simply chose not to do much of anything. There were times when assistants busied themselves doing paperwork for, what seemed like, hours. What disappointed me the most was the reluctance of some assistants to demonstrate the opening and closing of the machines. Some assistants were physically present in the training room while doing little in the way of helping. Should these people be asked to return next season?
We knew what the BOE required of us as individuals and as a team. I think a person has what it takes to be a trainer or an assistant or they don’t. The BOE damages its reputation and productivity by continuing to field workers who cannot meet job expectations.
THE LACK OF PUNCTUALITY
Doesn’t it go without saying that the BOE needs its trainers and assistants to arrive on time to be able to get the job done? Who challenges this axiom? So why do some habitually arrive late for training sessions? Arriving late is in inexcusable, especially when the BOE pays for their punctuality. In general, arriving late causes problems for businesses.
Training team members arriving late decreases productivity. Team moral suffers when someone strolls through doors after the workday has started. Prospective poll workers who arrived on time witnessed the disregard for punctuality. These election day workers assume that there is a culture of tolerance for rule breaking. It was ironic when a trainer repeatedly asked the class; What time do you arrive at the polls on election day, when she arrived late for class.
The BOE requires that we sign a timesheet to be paid for our services. Some trainers and assistants inaccurately completed their time sheets. They specified an arrival time that was not correct. At the training sessions that were held in public schools, School Security often required us to sign in. I am sure that their records would contradict many timesheets submitted to the BOE. Punctuality problems are resolvable.
INABILITY TO USE THE TABLET
The BOE provides each trainer with a Microsoft Surface tablet, which is used as a training tool. The trainers receive extensive hands-on training on how to use it and the projector. The tablets are distributed at the beginning of the training cycle and collected when the cycle concludes. Trainers can improve their tablet skills by using the tablet in their free time. After a training class or two, trainers should be well versed in using the tablet. The PowerPoint presentation is an invaluable training tool. In my opinion, the BOE’s informational training for the tablet is more than adequate to prepare the trainers to use it and to troubleshoot basic problems.
Too many trainers at the beginning of class encountered difficulties getting their tablets up and running. They either could not connect the cables correctly or configure the tablet to function as required. Trainers in states of desperation frantically calling the BOE for technical assistance did not instill confidence in the students.
Often, we trained at remote locations far from the BOE’s offices. Consequently, solving simple tablet issues on our own was a must. Technical support was never just a few doors away. I heard trainers complaining to whoever would listen that “their tablets were not working.” For some of these trainers, their tablets weren’t working during last year’s training cycle. Do you believe this?
Some called upon me to troubleshoot their tablets. I usually got their machines up and running in minutes. I agreed to assist the trainer to protect the BOE’s reputation and to avoid a training disaster that would have adversely affected my interests. I believe that every training team member must pull their own weight and earn his pay.
I think the solution to this problem is obvious. If a person cannot proficiently use the tablet he should not serve as a trainer. Additionally, a person who cannot use the tablet should also not work as an information clerk, election site coordinator or AD monitor. Isn’t this the BOE’s policy?