Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2022/ Working the Election

Working the Election

I did end up voting at an advance poll, but I did not end up skipping election day entirely. Instead, I spent election day employed as an "Informational Assistant" for Elections Ontario. It was the first paid employment I had in 2022, and it might be the last.

As part of my employment contract I recited an oath stating that I would preserve the secrecy of the election, and I take that oath seriously. So I will not be writing about any of the people who came to vote, or how they may have voted. Shockingly, I do not have a copy of the oath with me now, but I think it is safe to discuss the employment process, and observations of the day that would have been visible to any member of the public coming in to vote.


As I have written elsewhere, I have not worked all year, and was losing confidence that I could hold down a job. When I voted at the advance polls there was a sign saying that Elections Ontario was (still!) hiring for the election.

I have thought about working elections in the past, but I had never tried to get involved. I knew that working the election would be a short commitment. It was not obviously unethical and I hoped I would be able to handle the work. So I decided to investigate.

The evening after I voted I visited the Elections Ontario employment page, and saw the different job listings. There were lots of different jobs, but only two ("Poll Assistant (No Technology)" and "Information Assistant") were open to me, since all the others required owning a mobile phone. I filled out the application about a week before the election. Then the Tuesday before the election I received a phone call from Elections Ontario telling me to turn up for training as an Information Assistant. There was no screening interview, which surprised me.


As a coward, I have been keeping my distance from others since March 2020. I go to the junk food store regularly, and I had attended a few outdoor events with people I knew, but I avoided busy indoor locations. The election would involve interacting with a lot of strangers in an indoor space, and that frightened me.

To alleviate my fear I decided to shave my beard short and wear proper N95 masks, but I did not get around to getting any such masks before I got the call. Then I got the call and freaked out and tried to locally source some masks. Because I am a hypocrite, I went to Walmart and bought 10 masks for $15 or so. Most other places did not carry certified masks, or carried too few masks at too high a price (I am looking at you, Shoppers Drug Mart).

I also was anxious that I would not be able to do the job. Election day would be long (a 12 hour shift) and require getting up early in the morning. Elections are serious business; I did not want to screw up and potentially prohibit somebody from voting. I also worried about getting into some confrontation with a potential voter.

I also worried that I would be recognised and called out as some kind of partisan.

Training Day

I was hired on "standby", which means that I would be trained, but would not necessarily have a place to work. This was probably because I applied to work so late. Standby positions were not guaranteed work, but would fill in if somebody else did not show up. They also got paid for training.

My training was for the "Information Assistant" position, which is the Walmart greeter of the election. In short, information assistants welcome voters into the voting location, offer assistance, confirm that voters are in the right place by looking at their voter cards, and then direct them to the Deputy Returning Officers (DROs), who confirm address information and eligibility to vote, and then send voters off with a ballot. (Subsequently, the voters hand their vote to a Tabulator, who feeds the ballot into an entirely trustworthy voting machine to be tabulated. (It appears that Elections Ontario has some reasonable protocols to monitor the voting machines from tampering, but I won't comment on how much I trust them). In addition, there are one or more supervisors who make sure things are running smoothly and deal with the difficult cases.

In addition to being greeters Information Assistants are gofers, doing random tasks like disinfecting surfaces and putting up signs. It seems that these are the jobs often offered to high school students.

I was told to show up for training by 6pm, so to be a good worker I showed up around 5:30pm, only to learn that the training did not actually start until 8:30pm.

I was trained on my role as a greeter, on the different roles people played during the election, on how to address people with different disabilities, and on some health and safety stuff.

As part of my training I signed some forms and took the aforementioned oath. The training was fine but in some ways it did not correspond to reality. It also became apparent that information assistants really did not do much -- in almost every case they just sent voters to the Deputy Returning Officers, or sometimes their supervisor. The only exception to this was if we saw that the voting location on somebody's card was incorrect, in which case we were supposed to redirect that person to the correct location.

The training marked the first time I spent any extended amount of time indoors with other people. Some people were masked, but most others (including the instructor) were not. The instructor made it clear that we could offer PPE to people but could not ask anybody to wear a mask even if they were hacking and coughing.

Getting Called

This was a hassle, because I do not own a mobile phone. Fortunately, I still leech phone service from the cult, so I can make outgoing calls and take incoming calls if I am hooked up to the phone system on my computer. Unfortunately this means that if I am expecting a call I have to sit inside at my computer all day.

I talked with the scheduler about this and they were quite willing to accomodate me. I had my volunteering on the Wednesday, so they told me they would call me at the end of the day on Wednesday if it looked like they would need somebody, and otherwise I could get up at 7am and hang out by my phone in case somebody cancelled. As it turned out they called me Wednesday, and I was able to confirm my availability that evening. So that worked out.

Election Day

I showed up at the voting location about 7:45am. I helped with putting some posters up (a few of which were kind of silly), and then I stood around anxious for a while. People started filing in to vote before 9am, so we made them wait in line until voting opened officially.

The voting process was pretty smooth. At our voting location we had four information assistants, but we really only needed two. The job was easier than I thought it would be. Sure enough I greeted people and checked their cards, and I directed difficult cases to the supervisor. There were some technical problems with one of the computers that caused some issues, but we worked around those.

For a while we had two informational assistants greeting people, but this was too many. We stepped on each other's toes and ended up confusing some voters. It really was a one person job, and as the loudmouth I was stealing glory from a young fellow who was likely in high school. The young fellow was shy and probably had not done greeting work before, so I tried to mansplain some pointers to him.

Much as when I am teaching, I was able to go into "extrovert mode" when greeting. It surprises a lot of people that I can be so socially anxious in some situations and so "on" for others, but that's how it goes.

Mostly I was feeling redundant, as if I was stealing work from the other information assistant. I was beginning to think that I was a pity hire. I mentioned this to my supervisor, and then mentioned this to a super-supervisor who was going from location to location checking in on things. This was a dumb mistake, because the super-supervisor said there was a different location that had received two fewer information assistants than they had been allocated. So I was offered the opportunity to switch locations, and like an idiot I accepted the offer. My hope was that I could be useful without stepping on toes.

It turns out the second location did not need me either. They already had four information assistants, and three of them were greeting people. So they ended up having me sanitize things. I went to the voting booths and wiped down the Sharpie (tm) markers and tables, and then wiped down the surfaces of cardboard folders. When a voter got a ballot, the Deputy Returning Officer would put it in one of these cardboard folders, and then the voter would vote, then take the ballot (again in its cardboard folder) to the electronic voting machine. Then the cardboard folder would be reused, but before this the folder surface was supposed to be sanitized with a wet wipe.

This was pure COVID sanitization theatre. There was a lot of such theatre at the voting location. Each of the Deputy Returning Officers sat at a booth, and there was fake plexiglass barriers between the voter and the Deputy Returning Officer. There was all the wiping down of Sharpie (tm) markers. There were signs encouraging people to wear masks, but no real encouragement to get people wearing masks unless they expressed an interest in having one. Come to think of it, my folder sanitization was all wrong -- I mostly wiped the front and backs of the folders, whereas people were most likely to hold the folders by their edges, so if there were going to be COVID fomites they would be where I was not sanitizing as thoroughly.

Switching locations was utterly disheartening. Once again I was not really needed (one of the other greeters could have done my job) and somehow my duties went from fairly unnecessary (greeting people and directing them) to wholly unnecessary (sanitization theatre). I would have been better off in the first voting location. Let that be a lesson to me.

Nonetheless, I spent the next eight hours sanitizing folders and running them to the Deputy Returning Officers for reuse. Unlike me, the Deputy Returning Officers were highly in demand, and constantly busy. Either they were confirming voter information, or they were preparing ballots and envelopes for new voters, since each ballot had to be initialed by the corresponding DRO.

At 9pm we were supposed to mark the end of the lineup and prohibit subsequent people from voting, but this did not happen for us. Then we put things away (which was an adventure in itself, particularly for the computer equipment), took down posters and stickers, and cleared the building.

Lessons Learned

One comment I heard from the supervisors was that it was better to hire too many people rather than too few. I broadly agree with this, but I feel that there were far too many Information Assistants hired for both the locations I worked. It felt like a waste of taxpayer money. Many aspects of my experience made me think of "government work", from the many many different job titles (and acronyms!), to the earnest training that did not match reality that closely, to the signs nobody read. On the other hand, the staff working the election were uniformly friendly and accomodating to me. Some of us clearly did not have enough to do, but those who had real jobs seemed to do them adequately enough.

On the other hand, many people commented on how quick and smooth the voting process was. Most people were in and out of the polling station within minutes. The people feeding ballots into the trustworthy electronic tabulating machines praised those machines, but I do not think that was the deciding factor for voters. In contrast, several of the workers commented on how slow voting had been for the federal election. I remember this; I had to wait outside in a line for 20 minutes or so before getting to vote. I am not sure what the big difference was for this election. Maybe capacity limits slowed everything down? Maybe the federal election did not employ enough Deputy Returning Officers? They were the real bottleneck in the process.

I did not need to work this election. It would have made no difference whether I had worked it or not, and could have been better for others if I hadn't.

The money was significant, I guess. I probably made over $150 for two days of work. On the other hand, I was exposed to a lot of different people, and if I had ended up with COVID that money would not have been worth it (especially if I had ended up with long COVID).

Wearing my N95 masks all day was not awful, but I question whether those masks were doing their job. My understanding is that if you are wearing an N95 mask properly you should not be able to smell things, and that was clearly not the case for me. I probably wore my first N95 for too many hours in a row -- apparently they degrade, so you should not wear them more than eight hours straight.

I had a lot of COVID anxiety following my employment. It did not help that my allergies were acting up, but my hypochondria went into overdrive as well. I was okay while at work, but afterwards I got pretty scared. This does not bode well for me holding permanent employment.

I am upset that I do not have a copy of my oath or employment contract. They said that they wanted that sheet of paper back after I was done my work for the day.

I did manage to get up in the morning, and I did manage to put in 12 hours (more like 14 hours) of work. The work was easy and often boring, but I got through.

Although the work was fine for one day, and I probably could have done it for a few days (maybe even 10, if I had worked the entire advance polling period), there is no way I would want to do this kind of work for an extended period, particularly if the work itself felt useless.