Thursday, November 6, 2008

We won't vote Conservative, because we never have... or: Everybody's (poll) workin' for the weekend

So Election Day has come and gone, can you believe it? Last Tuesday will forever be remembered as a historic day – one of hope and triumph for Democrats and an unmistakable sign of End Times for the Far-Right who will now start hoarding canned goods and building Muslim-proof fallout shelters in their back yards. So depending on which way you voted, you’re either just getting over your Obama related mother-of-a-celebration hangover, or your shoulders are really sore from shoveling (by the way, I am fairly certain most cities require a permit for larger-scale building projects, and a personal fall out shelter would count. If you are too mistrusting to even want your local government involved in your life, I hope you at least called MISS DIG first). Either way, thank you for voting, for without YOU, I would not have had a reason to work the polls this election and you would not be reading this firsthand account of my experience.

Tuesday morning I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:30. I was told to report to my polling precinct at 6:00 so that everything could be set up and ready at 7:00 when the polls opened. I sleepily got ready and put on clothes with the “dress nice” decree from Election School in mind: black dress pants, a burgundy button-down shirt, and my black Doc Marten boots which might not count as “dress shoes,” but sore feet were not going to impede my ability to be involved in the political process. I had entertained the thought of walking since the polls are so close to where I live, but considering the fact I might be there for the rest of my life depending on how many people turned out, the environment would have to take a back seat to my need for a half hour more of precious, precious sleep. So like a real American, I hopped in my car and drove the few blocks to the polling place.

I got there at about 6:10 a.m. and was let into the building (a former elementary school now second-chance high school, I think) by the janitor. I will admit I was nervous. I had never done this before, and I sure didn’t feel adequately trained for the occasion. However, I comforted myself with the knowledge that I would be working with seasoned poll workers who would guide me along. I was new, sure, but willing and able to do my part for Democracy! To my superiors request of “jump” I would only answer “how high?” and before I knew it I would be part of a well-oiled voting machine!

When I walked into the gym, a petite older woman missing most of her bottom teeth greeted me. It seemed like she had just been running. She also had an entire donut hanging out of her mouth. She quickly took a bite of the donut and set the rest of it down on the table next to her without bothering with a napkin or plate. Her nametag indicated her name was Pam. After telling her who I was, she welcomed me, gave me my nametag and pointed to a larger woman with white hair and said she was who I needed to see about “what you’ll be doing today.”

This woman (Stephanie) was one of two chairs at my polling station. She seemed to be pretty perky for so early in the morning, but also a tad scattered. Each polling station had to have two chairs, one from each major party. The other chair, Vivian, was an older African-American woman who, incredibly, was the Republican. My first impression of her was that she was kind of crabby. The other volunteers that day were:

Sunny – a very small older woman who was wearing a black sweater with enough light colored animal hair on it to make it appear patterned. I was later informed that her shirt also appeared to be heavily Kool-Aid stained. When Vivian saw Sandy first thing in the morning, she greeted her with, “Sandy! No – we’ve got to get you out of that sweater – you’re covered in dog fur!” Sandy looked despondent yet never did remove the sweater, and was still wearing it fifteen hours later when we were done. During that entire stretch of time, I saw her get up only twice – and both times to make the short 3 yard walk to a trash can to throw away several feet long ribbons of “I Voted” sticker backing.

Rose– an even keeled 83-year-old who I ended up working with most of the day. She had a box of Kleenex with her, which she told me she brought because, “I never know when my sinuses are going to drain” and told me I was welcome to use her Kleenex whenever I wanted.

Mickey – an older man who liked to tell really bad jokes and who I witnessed saying to a voter who asked a question about straight ticket voting, “Don’t vote straight ticket! Your vote could flip! I saw it on the Internet!” He and I went in together for pizza later in the night. I paid for my portion with a roll of dimes.

Melody – a 30-year-old woman with coke-bottle glasses wearing a matching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ball cap and hooded sweatshirt. I am guessing that, to her, “dress nice” translated as “make sure your cartoon apparel is tastefully matching.” I found out later, she also had a TMNT vanity license plate. She told me that she was Stephanie’s daughter, and that she was volunteering “kind of last minute” because one of the ladies who was supposed to work Election Day had a “mental breakdown” and was in the hospital.

Tyrone and Emily – two high school students who were both exceptional and we were lucky to have them for the precious hours we did.

So about five minutes before 7 a.m. I asked Vivian about when I should actually vote – although I had asked the folks at City Hall about getting an absentee ballot, I was told that, since I was working in my own precinct, I could just vote in person. Although I tried to explain that, seeing as I would be busy working the polls it might be easier for me to just get it out of the way ahead of time, they didn’t seem to think that was a good enough reason. So Vivian looked at the clock and said, “Hurry up and vote before we let people in.” By this time, the line to get in was all the way down the hallway, and people were starting to get restless. I wasn’t crazy about this voting under pressure scenario, but what could I do? I grabbed my ballot and filled in the little bubbles as fast as I could.

I then put my ballot into the machine using the “secrecy sleeve” as instructed, but instead of accepting it and pulling it in ala a dollar bill into a vending machine, the machine beeped and rejected my ballot, giving me an error message of some kind. I motioned to Vivian and she came over to the machine. I explained what happened and she asked me, “Well, did you fill it out right?” Now, I don’t want to imply that I am a genius, but in our precinct we had over 1100 ballots cast. Of that number, only TWO people “spoiled” their ballot or “messed it up badly enough to need a new one” (this doesn’t count the one person who’s baby actually threw up in the voting booth and literally spoiled a ballot for what may very well be a historical first. I really hope I can find an Election Historian who can verify this for me). So even though I was rushed through the process, I was pretty sure that my ballot was fine. I finally just took it back to my assigned workstation with me and hid it under my chair, hoping I would find the time to look it over and recast it.

When the machine also rejected the first voter’s finished ballot, I felt vindicated. Of course that also meant that we were in a predicament considering the biggest piece of equipment in the place was not working. I had not been prepared in Election School for the possibility of a complete mutiny should our station, right at the start, have to shut down due to technical difficulties. Crisis was thankfully averted when Stephanie realized that the key used to start the machine had not been turned all the way. “Well, did you fill it out right?” Shut up, Vivian.

So here’s the basic set up in the assembly-line style voter procedures: Station #1 was where voters filled out their name and address on an “application to vote,” a little slip of paper about the size of a magazine subscription card. At Station #2 voters showed their ID and were looked up in the Precinct list to make sure they were actually listed. Station #3 had two people, one with an “A-L” list of Precinct voters, and one with an “M-Z” list. At this station, voters gave their application to vote, and that voter was then looked up in the book. The voter name was then highlighted, and a corresponding sticker next to their entry that also had their name on it, was taken out of the book and, along with the application to vote, was passed on to Station #4. At Station #4, the ballot number and voter number were assigned, recorded into a book next to the voter’s name sticker, and the ballot and voter number were written on their application to vote. This now completed application to vote was then passed along to Station #5 where the application was checked against the number on the ballot before the voter would be handed said ballot and told to choose any open voting booth. After the person voted, they took their ballot to Station #6 where the stub was removed, and they were instructed in the ways of feeding their ballot into the machine. After they managed to do this successfully, they stopped by Station #7 and exchanged their application to vote for an “I Voted” sticker. If this sounds unnecessarily complicated to you, then it is obvious that you hate Democracy and should move to Amsterdam where they love Socialist heathens like you.

So where was I in this line up? I spent the better part of 15 hours highlighting voter names and peeling stickers out of the “M-Z” book with Rose doing the same for “A-L.” Really, if somebody wanted to take a look at the above process and make some quick changes to streamline, I have no doubt that my sticker-peeling, highlighting ass would be the first one downsized. Nonetheless, I did my job as quickly and efficiently as I could and really had few issues.

Stephanie, the Democratic chair, was right next to me at Station #4, so should any questions arise, she could answer them. One such instance came up when a man pointed to his wife’s name in my book and said, “My wife passed away a little while ago. How do I get her name off the voter list?” I, of course, was not taught this in Election School, but seeing as I wanted to help offered that he could contact the City Clerk when he had a moment and they should be able to easily accommodate this request. Stephanie, overhearing this part of the conversation looks up and says, “He needs his wife taken off the list? Okay – just circle it in the book and write DIED.” Thankfully the pained expression on the man’s face was fleeting – as we were very busy – and he was shuffled along to the next station to get his ballot.

So it went the whole day long – look the name up, highlight it, take the sticker out of the book, pass it down… Most everybody was really nice and thanked us for our service. To this Stephanie would reply, “Oh, we’re getting paid for this!” which I found mortifying. Because, considering how hodge-podge our operation was, the types of hang ups, mistakes and lack of information was pretty forgivable should we just be a group of bumbling volunteers. But once it’s known we are receiving actual cash dollars to be that disorganized, that’s when people become judgmental and irritated. Also, after working a 15 hour day with barely a 15 minute break the whole time, I totally earned my $7.40 an hour, damn it.

After the last voter had finally left, my last task of the day was to go through all the write-in ballots and see if any of them were legitimate. Most people don’t realize this, but in order to be a valid write-in candidate, you have to actually file a Declaration of Intent with the appropriate officials before a certain deadline. This is, I guess, what keeps us from the possibility that election results could, for instance, force Detroit Piston Tayshaun Prince off the basketball court and into the Oakland County Commissioner’s office as one of my Precinct’s voters apparently wanted. The only valid write-ins were two people I had not heard of for President (and Ron Paul was NOT on the list as a valid write in, which I am sure will make the two people who voted for him in my Precinct riot or at least refuse to ever take their fucking Ron Paul signs down) and one person I had never heard of for the OCC Board of Trustees or some other such thing nobody cares about.

By the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. While the rest of the country was glued to the TV watching the results come in for this historic election, I was unconscious by 10:30pm. A friend I have not talked to in forever called me at 11:15 to share her excitement, and when, jerked out of a deep sleep, I incoherently answered the phone she said, “Whoo hoo! Obama did it! We finally have… hey wait, um, were you asleep?”

How old people do poll work is beyond me. I think it proves that elderly pollworkers indeed have secret powers, and that I must continue on down the pollworking path so that I can learn what they are. My experience has made clear that, despite their best intentions, Democracy must be pried from the exclusive hands of the elderly. Indeed, the civic duty wealth needs to be spread around regardless of what that dumb ass “Joe the Plumber” has to say about it.


Magic Pants Jones said...

What a great read! I enjoyed your snotty response to Vivian's attitude. While you were doing that, I was busy reassuring my students that yes, Barack Obama IS an American. We talked about how the electoral college works, and I smiled inside when one boy said, disapointedly, "John McCain's gonna lose."

Elle said...

oh, Laura, this was the longest thing I have ever read before on the Internet. How dare you make me read all of this. jk lolz. it was awesome. hilarious. riveting. i cried, i laughed, i fell out of my seat (i think i broke my tail bone).

Laura said...

Elle - thank you for your feedback. Please note that I will not be held responsible for any medical expenses you may incur because of your inability to read without letting your emotions get the best of you.

Seth Boulton said...

Did you know joe the plumber is working on siging his own country record deal?? Also, I'm going to a prop 8 protest this Saturday. My sign is going to say:

"Dear Steve,

I like you do you like me?

Check one:

not against the posibility of never getting married


definitely wanting to form a committee to discuss that we won't have to not be treated like other humans



Yours Truly,

And when people ask me what it's suppose to mean, i'm jsut going to hit them with the sign. It's a good plan:)

D'Anne Witkowski said...

It is true. Laura fell asleep about 5 minutes after she came home which was really disappointing since Stacy and I were geared up for some firsthand account of poll working action. So we went to the Booby Trap instead.

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