On Tuesday, I worked the polls at a local precinct in Michigan’s primary election. The election was unprecedented, both because of the record voter turnout in my precinct and because of the coronavirus pandemic.

We were underprepared for the latter. When I arrived at 6 a.m., the election inspector team started to unpack ballots, pens, “I Voted” stickers, and protective equipment. We had masks, face shields, a couple of stickers for the floor that read “6 Feet Apart,” some gloves, and one bottle of disinfectant. We were instructed to tape off a mark every six feet, but we weren’t provided with measuring tape.

Our instructions said the pens we provided voters weren’t to be reused, but there wasn’t anything about what to do if we ran out. Same with the manilla folders we were using instead of the traditional privacy envelopes. All of this felt shaky but understandable to me—this is new for everyone, and coordinating an election is a feat even without a pandemic. When one volunteer wondered aloud to our group what to do if someone came to vote without a mask, one of the other inspectors quickly replied, “You can’t say anything—if you do it’s a violation of their health rights.”

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