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Hearing every voice


WORLD Radio - Hearing every voice

An election judge and poll workers follow detailed procedures to ensure the votes are accurately represented

Stickers at a polling station in Goldsboro, N.C. Getty Images/Photo by Allison Joyce/Bloomberg

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: going behind the scenes of an election.

The 2024 election is around the corner. Some wonder whether votes will be counted fairly and whether unlawful votes might cancel them out.

The Pew Research Center found that almost 40 percent of voters were not confident in the results of the 2020 election, about double the percentage from the midterm election of 2018.

REICHARD: Who are the people running elections and how do they work together? WORLD Radio’s Mary Muncy got a peak behind the ballot box and brings the story.

AUDIO: [Precinct set up]

MARY MUNCY: Chief election judge Teri Gentile, and poll workers Sarah Jane Jackson and Andrew Reed are setting up a precinct in Buncombe County, North Carolina. This is the runoff primary election for the Republican party in the state.

TERI GENTILE: They gave us 150 ballots.


GENTILE: But I don't think that we're gonna have anywhere near that.

But they set it up with just as much care as they did the first primary in March.

The polling location is in a meeting room of a church and Gentile is flying around it setting up tables, laptops, printers, and signs.

She pulls the seal off the ballot machine, opens the bottom, and looks inside the box where finished ballots will go.

GENTILE: I used to have a guy… he used to trick people. He put a ballot in here. Because he wanted, he wanted you to open it up and make sure there were many ballots in here already.

After about an hour, they’re set up and do the last thing on Gentile’s list.

GENTILE: If y'all would raise your right hand,

WORKERS: [UNISON] I do solemnly swear…

They swear to act with integrity for the good of the people. Then they go home. Gentile keeps the unmarked ballots sealed and with her until the next morning.

GENTILE: Thank you. Y'all have a good rest of the evening.

Steve Aceto is a Buncombe County Election Board official. He says his county is one of the best in North Carolina at running elections.

STEVE ACETO: This county tends to be sort of the farm team for the state election administration. We have a significant number of Buncombe County alumnus that are in the administration in various high levels of responsibility.

He says that’s partly because people across the aisle work together to follow the state’s statutes—which are full of checks and balances. He says both sides realize the more secure the election, the better people can express their political views.

ACETO: This is where people do politics. And it's, it's, that's not a bad word. People with very divergent views are allowed to express them. And ultimately, we hope, will graciously accept the result rather than shooting somebody to force their point of view.

So, at 6:00 the next morning Gentile, Reed, and Jackson arrive at the precinct ready to help people express their point of view.

REED: Good morning.

SARAH JACKSON: Good morning.

The three gather around the ballot bag and break the seal. They record the number on the seal and place that into a bag with the seals from the laptops and voting machine. Gentile will present the bag to the election officials at the end of the night. Then they each confirm there are 150 blank ballots and put them in the machine.

After some last-minute prep, Gentile unlocks the church doors.

GENTILE: Some people come out and yell, “Polls are open!”

No one is there. She just thinks it’s fun.

Then she goes back inside and they wait for voters, and wait.

By noon only three people have cast their ballots.

JACKSON: Really making progress in my book.

Another nine people vote and then at 7:30…

GENTILE: The polls are closed.

Gentile, Reed, and Jackson take down the tables and log out of the laptops. Then they all watch as Gentile makes sure the number of ballots in the machine matches the number of voters that came through. They sign papers, reseal the ballot bag, and take out the flash drive with the electronic version of the ballots.

Now comes the nerve-wracking part for Gentile—she has to present her results to the voting officials.

GENTILE: Have a great evening. Thank you again.

Reed takes the electronic copy of the ballots to the election offices, while Gentile takes the sealed bag of ballots to a warehouse where they store all of the supplies.

Workers unload Gentile’s car and take the ballots and records to the start of an ordered line of staff. They make sure all of the seal numbers match, none of them look tampered with, and all of the records are in line.

Gentile sits down with some other election judges and waits for election staff to call her name. They’ll tell her either everything lines up and she’s free to go, or they have to ask her some questions.

About five minutes later staff call her name…

OFFICIAL: She’s done. You are done. Thank you so much!

But the process isn’t over.

The next week, election officials meet several times to hand-count ballots from random precincts and review any last-minute mail-in ballots.

Then on Friday, the Buncombe County Board of Elections meets to certify the election.

JAKE QUINN: [GAVEL BANGING] Good evening everyone.

Board of Elections Chair Jake Quinn calls the meeting to order and they review any provisional ballots. Then they turn to the mountain of paper in front of them.


This is not a cursory check. This is the last review before the election is certified. The staff wait in anxious anticipation while the board members pull out rolls of precinct results and compare the numbers to other numbers in binders and in stacks of paper. This goes on for about 20 minutes. Then they sit back down and give a nod to the chair of the board.

JAKE QUINN: The motion before the board is to certify the second primary conducted on May 14th this year. All those in favor say aye.


QUINN: All those opposed nay. Thank you, the election is certified and well done staff.

The meeting is adjourned a few minutes later and the staff go eat cake.

Buncombe County Director of Elections Corinne Duncan put hundreds of hours into this election—even though it’s one of the smallest they’ve had.

CORINNE DUNCAN: I think that people will be more confident in the process if they know how much work and energy and careful consideration that many, many people give to put on elections.

Before the November election, Duncan and her team will spend thousands of hours testing their election equipment, training staff and poll workers, and strategizing to increase accountability—all to make sure, come November, everyone’s voice is heard.

DUNCAN: I think that elections is a really special place where you can come and you can see people with very different views working together.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy in Buncombe County, North Carolina.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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