Election Day starts at 5:30 a.m. for the team of poll workers at Southwest Regional Library. The team of five arrives before sunrise, allowing ample time to set up the polling location before it opens at 7 a.m.
Kal, 63, and Karen, 62, Silverberg, with a combined nearly 40 years of experience working Election Day, know to expect the unexpected. This year, though, they experienced a first. The team is locked out of the polling location for an hour, condensing set-up time to about 20 minutes.
Despite the late start, the team starts moving through election security measures right away. They make sure that each machine starts the day with zero votes cast and break the seals placed on the voting machines last Election Day and record the seal numbers. The broken seals will go to the elections administration at the end of the night to ensure none of the machines are tampered with.
The Silverbergs’ polling location, Southwest Regional Library, consistently has some of the highest turnout in Fort Worth. This year, 950 voters cast their ballot there.
The couple has used four different types of voting machines over 19 years. With every technology upgrade, elections become more secure, Kal said. He is very concerned that many in Tarrant County distrust the voting process now more than ever, he said. He feels the solution is a more widespread understanding of what goes on behind the scenes before, during and after voters cast their ballot.
Nearly two years ago, Tarrant County residents filled the commissioners courtroom to ask then-Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia about the security of Tarrant County’s elections. Tarrant County’s election administration has since held two ‘election tests’ to demonstrate how the county’s voting machines work and the vote counting process.
Kal Silverberg believes these events and explanations lack the perspective of a cog in the election machine that is key to its success: The election judges and clerks who swear an oath to “guard the purity of election” are.
“No one is writing about the work we do and the lengths we go to ensure the integrity of every vote,” Karen Silverberg said.
The pair met at Rice University where they each graduated with a political science degree. Today, they work at two Fort Worth institutions, BNSF Railway and Tarrant County College. After moving to Fort Worth, the couple made a habit of getting to know the poll workers and precinct chairs in their neighborhood and engaging in the election process. Many years and two children later, the Silverbergs still live in the same neighborhood and remain passionate about their role in maintaining America’s democracy.
Eventually, the couple took over as precinct chairs of their respective parties. Kal is the Republican chair in precinct 4130 while Karen serves as the Democrat chair. Despite their disparate party registrations, the pair agree on their goals for the country, Kal said.
Living in the neighborhood, attending the nearby synagogue and their consistent presence at Southwest Regional Library on Election Day has allowed the couple to cultivate a community of voters who know them by name.
All day, voters lining up to cast their vote call Kal and Karen by name and thank them for volunteering yet again. The Silverbergs proudly namecheck the many city leaders who made it a habit to vote at their polling location on Election Day, including former Mayor Betsy Price and former Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner.
Elections are secured through a system of checks
As an election judge, Kal spends most of his Election Day guarding the ‘chain of custody’ or the process of getting voting data and ballots from the hands of voters to the Tarrant County Elections rally site.
Meanwhile, a team of five election clerks ensures the election runs smoothly. The Silverbergs have been working with this team for many years. Josie Copeland first started volunteering as an example to her children. About 10 years later, she’s a seasoned poll worker.
“It helps when you have a team that knows what they’re doing,” Copeland said.
After the voter places their ballot on the machine to be scanned, Copeland encourages them to watch and make sure their ballot is counted. After the whirring of the machine scanning the ballot ends, the voter hears a click followed by the appearance of the image of an American flag. Copeland thanks every voter for lining up to cast their vote as they head out the door.
On the other side of the room, Karen Silverberg and Liz Chesser work to verify voters’ identities before sending them over to pick up a ballot. Chesser always brings baked goods to keep her fellow poll workers fed throughout the more than 12 hour day.
The rest of the team was also recruited by the Silverbergs: Tom Curtis, Karen Telschow Johnson, Chesser and Copeland have all worked multiple elections with Kal and Karen.
While working her first election, Johnson discovered that every single ballot has its own dynamically generated ID number, making it harder to simply duplicate ballot numbers and switch out legitimate votes.
The level of detail in the process of securing and storing ballots gave her more confidence in the security of elections. Like Copeland, she started working elections to set a good example for her family.
“If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem,” Johnson said.
Throughout the day, Karen Silverberg reflected on how many good Election Day officials have quit since concerns about election fraud have become more widespread. While hundreds of voters at the Silverbergs’ polling location thank the pair for their work, other Election Day workers haven’t had the same experience.
If most Americans spent one election working the polls, confidence in the process would increase, Chesser said.
When things go awry, Kal Silverberg is called over to document the anomaly. When a ballot gets jammed in the voting machine, Kal spoils the damaged ballot to make it incapable of being scanned, documents it and places the spoiled ballot in a secure bag.
Several voters at Southwest Regional Library needed to fill a provisional ballot, either because they requested a mail-in ballot but didn’t complete it or didn’t have a proper form of ID. Kal secures those ballots, too, by documenting and securing them in a separate bag.
“I’m making sure the chain of custody is intact,” Kal said as he worked.
As a tradition, Kal and Karen are the last to cast their ballots at their Election Day location.
Once the final vote is cast, the security measures that were in place when the polling place opened are restored. Every voting machine is sealed and the sealed numbers are recorded on a form — one copy goes to the elections administration and the other the election judge keeps. Reports with vote totals and other data are printed and combined with the morning’s reports to ensure the vote totals are accurate.
“We’ve been told we’re very good at doing the paperwork and doing it right,” Kal Silverberg said.
The Silverbergs transport the sealed voting data, paper ballots, provisional and spoiled ballots and other materials to the county’s rally station. The voting data will not be official until the information is verified by Tarrant County Elections.
From there, the data from every Tarrant County polling location will be collected at the county’s Tarrant County Elections Administration building where members of the county’s bipartisan ballot board will process the votes and make rulings on provisional ballots.
With their job done, the Silverbergs head to a late dinner to debrief. The long day filled with lifting heavy equipment and standing for long periods of time takes a physical toll, but the couple has no intention of retiring from their beloved polling location any time soon.
All photos were taken before polls opened or after polls closed.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.