What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

06 November 2010

Election Day

One of my life goals was realised on Tuesday: I worked the polls on Election Day. (Of course, when working out this life goal as a 16-year-old, I had supposed I would be working the polls in Indiana--c'est la vie.)

Election paraphernalia at the LBJ
This opportunity came about because an acquaintance of Chad's was an election judge at his local precinct, and last weekend one of his clerks backed out on him. The guy sent out an SOS email, Chad forwarded it to me, and I quite happily signed up.

To say it was the greatest day of my life would be an outright lie-- it was long, tiring, and cold sitting in the lobby of an elementary school. Complainers came by. I tried out my Spanish on a couple of voters with only limited success. The kids were occasionally noisy and this school was built to echo. I won't even say that it was the best day of my democratic life-- that honour still belongs to the first time I ever voted. But, it was totally worth it, and in the end, I plan to do it again.

So, here are some of the cool (and a few less-cool) stories of the day:

We had a rush right at 7 AM, which is normal, then things settled down a bit. At about 7:30, a man walked in and asked, "Where is everyone? There ought to be a line out the door!" It turns out this man is an immigrant, who just earned his citizenship last year, so this was his first time voting in the US. (He is English by birth, but I got no information about whether he had ever voted in England.) Cue Su's "first-time voter" music, again. I love that kind of thing.

There was a woman who was sitting in front of the school, holding up a sign for her candidate, for about 12 hours. Did I mention that it was windy and cold on Tuesday? I was amazed at the dedication of the candidate's volunteers. Of course, I don't know anything about Austin politics yet (and therefore didn't vote for any local races-- I don't vote uninformed), but when I mentioned this to the Alternate Election Judge, she said that it's pretty much par for the course for him to have actual people at polling places, instead of merely putting up a yard sign. Cool.

We had quite a few fresh-faced first-time voters (in addition to the aforementioned Englishman who is older than I). I made sure to say "Good for you!" or "Thank you for voting!" when I heard that the voter was making his/her first foray into democracy-- I think it's urgent to encourage everyone to vote, and none more so that the under-30 crowd who historically stay away from the polls. One young man was a bit nervous, so his mum went to the box with him to help him out, if need be. And, as a reward, she had to sign an affidavit saying that she didn't tell him how to vote, and was only there to assist with the machine. I didn't realise that the Election Office had this policy in place, although I guess it makes sense-- we ended up getting a few of those filled out, mostly for elderly people whose relatives read the ballot to them or helped them turn the click wheel. (Election workers can help people with the machines without signing an affidavit each time, because we took an oath at the beginning of the day and had already signed it.)

There was a woman-- I wouldn't call her elderly, but perhaps on the upper end of middle age-- who doesn't like the electronic voting. At all. And she announced as much about 5 times while trying to cast her vote. I was helping her at her request, and doing everything I could to be sure that I didn't see how she voted (as per the instructions given to Election Clerks). She finally said, "I don't mind you knowing how I vote! Just stand here and watch to be sure I'm doing this right!" Before she hit the "cast ballot" button at the end, she asked me about all the other races that had been in the paper that didn't show up on her ballot. I had to explain that the paper publishes all races for all precincts, but she can only vote for the races in her precinct. She was disappointed; she told me, "I did so much research for every office that was in the paper!" I congratulated her on choosing to be an informed voter, even if she did end up doing some unnecessary research.

The man who was next to her and heard many of her comments asked me if there was a paper trail. I explained to him that there is not, and he was kind of upset: "I don't care about my ballot being secret; I want a paper trail to show how I've voted!" Well, I remember enough of American history that I do care about my ballot being secret (there was a time that voting outside the union bosses' expressed wishes could lose a man his job, after all), but I understood his point. A lot of people don't trust electronic voting yet. This man and the woman described above began swapping stories of people voting for one straight ticket and the machine counting it as the other ticket, and I did not giggle, but I'm pretty sure those are urban legends-- since there's not a paper trail, how would anyone know that the machine counted their ballot incorrectly?

This will probably be my most-remembered story of the day-- seriously, I can't get over this guy. A man came in who was recovering from back surgery, so he was moving slowly and he did look like he was in pain. He wanted his voice to be heard, though, so he got out to vote. After he finished and left, he came back in a few minutes later to ask why the aforementioned woman holding a sign was allowed to be so much closer to the building than the yard signs filling the grassy section by the road. I explained about the 100-foot boundary from the door of the polling place and that she was well outside of it, and therefore, within her legal right to be campaigning. I also tried to explain that the yard signs were only further out than she was because that's where the grass was, and there was no place to put the signs any closer. (What I didn't mention, but probably should have, is that anyone could be standing where the woman was-- and in fact, people could stand even closer, right up to the 100-foot mark-- but that she was the only one who had come out.) He told us that it was "uncomfortable" to see her there "advocating" her candidate in that way. So, I repeated that she wasn't breaking any laws, and he said thank you and left, possibly to start a letter-writing campaign. (Okay, that's fiction. He probably just went home to take a pain pill.)

There was also a man who came in at 7:07 PM to vote, and we had to turn him away. I was sad about that, but unfortunately, it's not like he didn't have opportunities before then; early voting ran for two weeks, after all. But it's still a bummer when someone makes the effort to come to the polling place and can't vote.

And, my favourite story of the day. A woman came in, toward the end of the day, with her two sons. (BTW, I was really happy to see all the kids who came in with their parents; that's how I first got interested in voting, after all.) I had been handing out the "I voted!" stickers to the kids like candy, because again, I like to encourage this habit as young as possible. If I'm ever pregnant on Election Day, I'll be getting a picture taken of me voting just so I can tell my kid, "Look! I took you to vote before you were even born!" But I digress, again. So I asked the two boys if they'd like a sticker, and of course they did, and their mother was delighted; one of the boys is autistic, and his fixation is on the American flag. He took the sticker and stuck it on his forehead! Made me smile for an hour. As they were leaving, he and his mum were discussing how when they got home, he could glue the sticker into his collection of American flag stuff. Now, that's just good parenting. :)

If you're in the US, I hope you voted on Tuesday. I'm not going to regale you with the "one vote really can make a difference" speech, even though I believe it can. No, I believe even more strongly than that in the voting process-- it brings us together and it gives us a peaceful way way to express our beliefs and influence the direction of the nation. It's okay that we disagree-- after all, if we all agreed, we'd have no need for elections. And the biggest one for me is an oft-repeated quote from The West Wing: Decisions are made by those who show up.

I've already heard a couple of other good election-day stories. Does anyone want to share theirs?


Unknown said...

Very interesting, and you can't win them all, you'll get those sort of people in all walks of life. Hugs...

Su said...

Oh, yeah, I've already met enough of them to know they are pervasive! :)

Unknown said...

Cool. I cop out of a lot of elections, because I live in Texas and a majority of the voters vote like I would. (Excuse-admitted.) And because I'm always out of country, though I know I could still vote. Anyway, I always feel proud to have got my voice heard when in country when I did vote. :) Happened several times.
So, on another topic, The Art of Non-Conformity, what kind of book is it? Is it good? In college I wrote a paper on non-conformity, and how it was good. Oh, and I forgot to mention the other day, about how your husband posted a comment- something like: "Play nice with the other kids." I laughed. My hubby is always telling me that! :)

Su said...

I think it's fun to vote absentee, although I know not everyone agrees. The State of Indiana sends such nice letters with the absentee ballots. I presume Texas does the same.

I haven't finished The Art of Non-Conformity yet; it's on the hiatus list until Christmas break, when I expect to get a lot of reading done. So I'll have to get back to you on that!

Oh, yeah-- he's always telling me to be nice to people at uni. I'm nice most of the time.