Cease Fire

November 5, 2010 at 8:56 PM | Posted in Political | 1 Comment
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Time After Time

I’ve worked a couple of elections this year–there’s always something in April, and then just recently, at the end of August, was the primary.  Yesterday was the General Election.  The Mid-Term.
You’ve already seen and read and watched and heard all kinds of analysis about the election results.  But I’m an election judge.  I’m going to tell you about the election itself:  a worm’s eye view from the ground.
Before the primary, we had to go to a class, because some things had changed.  Fine and dandy–and then, in order to get paid for the class, you have to work the election as well.  If you no worka de election, you no getta paid for da class.
But then, before the General Election, there was another class.  I thought we had done learned all we needed to know.  My head was full.  How can I possible learn more?
As it turns out, I can’t, at least not for long.  The class was in early September.  By the time this election rolled around, I remembered nothing of what we had learned that was new.
But that’s cool–they sent out memos.  In a big manila envelope marked “Memos.”
Election Day is a long day for poll workers.  I imagine it’s even longer for candidates and their staff and followers and groupies.  I can’t imagine believing in anyone that much that I would work that hard for them for free.  Everybody Knows the World is Full of Stupid People.
Speaking of Stupid People, I agreed to do this–so Monday night on the way home from Pizzarama, I stopped at the store to get some supplies for the next day:  water and soda, both in small bottles, some snacks, and some tissue.
I went to bed early (for me); by 10pm I was out like Barney Frank.  I had to be up at 4am, to be at the poll at 5am, to open it at 6am.  And we run till 7pm, and are usually done by 8pm.  Six hours’ sleep is enough for me lately.  I must be getting old.  But what is that?  From 5am to 8pm, that’s a 15-hour day.
Poll-workers here in St Louis County get 100 bucks per day, Supervisors get 130.  I’m not sure what the Assistant Supervisors get.  One-twenty, maybe?  And then we get 50 for the class, which is usually three hours, a few weeks prior.
So, 130 divided by 15 is 8.67 an hour.  No wonder, then, about what I observed that I will explain momentarily…
I got up at four and took a shower.  I usually do the night before but this was to help me wake up.  I just hoped I didn’t get all sweaty like I did last time, setting everything up in the first hour.

Put Me In Cold

I went out early enough and got my coffee and a breakfast sammich.  I like my coffee like I like my women.  In the morning, I like my coffee to shut the hell up.  Actually, on a cold morning I get a big cup at Quiktrip, get about half hot chocolate, half dark roast–and a tiny bit of Vanilla cappuccino, for my homies.  Then I add cream and sugar because I like it sweet and creamy.  Yo.
I arrive on time.  A few minutes early, even, which is a departure from my first time doing this, I know.  I think I showed up about 530ish that time.  Here I am, bright and early, and ready to work.  Some people are already setting things up.  Here are the teams:
Everything is done in a bipartisan manner.  The Republican team is four white people:  I’m the Supervisor, Steve is the Assistant Supervisor, and John and some older woman are the regular workers.  Let’s call her Erma.  She looks like an Erma.
The Democratic team is four black people, oddly enough.  Pat (a woman) is the Supervisor, John is the Assistant Supervisor, and Doug and some other girl are the poll workers.  For the sake of clarity and stereotyping (like I did with Erma), let’s call her Shanika.
I jump right in and start with the set up.  We are in the library of an elementary school.  There is no school today.  The facilities people had already made room for us, and moved chairs and tables out of the way.  However–
The main maintenance guy showed up.  “Need anything?”
Yeah.  We need some rectangular tables, like we had last time.  And a couple of trash cans.  And a power strip.  He was on it.
We set up the Opti-scan booths, which is for the paper ballot, and the touch screen.  We have to offer people a choice, because old people and paranoid delusional conspiracy people  like my friend The Dude don’t like the touch screen because they think there is “no proof” of their vote–
Despite the fact that for every selection you make, you can hear the printer inside it making line on the paper, and the paper rolls are official ballots that we have to sign and handle securely just like the paper ballots.
It’s a Matter of Trust.
I said “we” set everything up.  White John, Erma, and Shanika put up all the required signage and posters.  Part of the Assistant Supervisors’ training–and one of their main jobs–is setting up the voting equipment.  Steve set up the Opti-scan Reader, while Black John looked at the touchscreen machines.  By “looked at” I mean he looked at them, did not unload them.
He started to–he took one off the cart and laid it down.  As soon as I started to help him, he stopped working and assumed a supervisory role, telling me what to do.  “Get the rest of them off first.”  Then, “No, turn it around the other way.”  I’ve done this before, you see.  He says, “That’s not the–they need be the other way.”
Finally I said–with a smile, “I know what I’m doing, John.  I’ve done this for you before.”  I made sure I slipped in that “for you” part.  He thinks this is home, and since he’s an old man (what is he, like 60?) that he’s the patriarch, and he can sit back and tell us what to do and benefit from his wisdom.
It’s a great theory–too bad he’s a dumb-ass.
After I set those up, I helped White John set up the Opti-Scan Booths.
Doug showed up late, after Pat called the office to tell them we were one short.  Steve and White John and Erma all look like teachers:  prim, well-groomed, conservatively and cleanly dressed.  You know what I look like.  But I was wearing a nice shirt and clean jeans.  Pat was dressed–and she acted like–she had a job in a government office.  Shanika was dressed normally–I didn’t pay attention to it, so it must not have been to strange.  Black John was wearing jeans and t-shirt.  Doug–when he showed up–looked like a man recently out of prison.  Thug in the real sense, not thug like in a rap video.  He was quiet and soft-spoken I guess.
What is the thing with–and look, it’s only black men that are like this:  his voice was so low I had trouble hearing him.  He sounded like he was whispering through a mouthful of jello, and seemed like he was always about to clear his throat.
Except he never did.

A Hard Day’s Night

We are set up and ready to go before six, which is good.  The polls open at six.  A line has formed outside the library door.  Okay, it’s only four or five people, but still–we have a line.  One of the rule changes is that the official voting booth time is now based on the cell phone they give us.  Before we went by the clock on the Number One Touch Screen Booth.  The cell phone was handier.
I walked up to the small group and told them that we can’t open until the official time of 6am.  And they have about six minutes left.  Finally, it’s time.
We had a steady stream of voters all day.  Unlike other elections, I can’t recall any moment when there were no voters for any length of time–no more than a few minutes, at best.  The first few voters that came in were what I call the cemetery vote.  I know it means something else.  But this one couple had a combined age of 423.
Of course, later I changed how I did this, partially based on this couple and also because of how Black John was not doing his job.  But this old couple filled out paper ballots, and I was standing right there by Steve so I got to see what they did.
The old man was giving his wife a lecture on how to do this, because obviously he knew better.  Then he turned to submit his ballot.  On the paper ballots, you use a pen and darken the oval next to the candidate of your choice.
He didn’t do that.  He put a checkmark in the oval.  The machine spit his ballot back out before we noticed it.  Steve explained to him what he had to do.  He turned to fix it.  He got it right–or right enough that the machine took it.  Then his wife gave us her ballot.
She did the same thing.  A checkmark in the oval.  I understand that they didn’t have computers when you were young.  But did they not have paper, either?  Or pens?
We corrected her–we thought–and explained that she had to fill in the circle.  She must not have heard everything we said, however.  When she gave it back to us, she had merely circled the ovals that she had put a checkmark in.
Do it again.
Surprisingly, when she was done, the scanner actually took the ballot.
The job of the assistant supervisors is to run the voting booths in an orderly fashion, keep the flow going, HELP people manage the equipment, and make sure people don’t have a problem casting their vote.  After I helped those first two earlier in the morning, I didn’t stay over there, but I was going back and forth, because the paper booths were basically unmanned.  Steve had his hands full with the touch screen, and Black John should have manned the paper, as busy as we were.
I decided to come over full time a little later in the morning when Steve motioned to me and brought me a ballot.  I could reconstruct what happened.  It was an older white man, so Big John looked at him with disdain and dismissed him with a hand motion after he gave him the ballot.  No instructions, no help.  The old man took the ballot, and tried to fill it out.
I have more respect for older people now…now that I’m getting closer to that.  I understand that their memory and cognition and eyesight aren’t always what they used to be.  They can get by on most things they have to deal with through routine and habit–it’s how I live.  But throw an election their way and it might as well be immersion into a foreign culture.  They can’t see well enough to read the instructions, or see the little circles to fill in with a pen.  If they can, they can’t aim their arm and exert enough control to fill in the circle where the circle actually is; usually, they are close at least.
This gentleman’s ballot we found sticking out of the Opti-scan.  You vote, you put it in, it takes it, it reads it, done.  If there is a problem, it spits it back out.  He pushed it in and walked away.  He left.
And didn’t hear the ballot being pushed back out.  Steve showed it to me.  The man didn’t understand the instructions very well.  There were check marks next to names, and in the spot for “write in” he wrote the name of the candidate that he had put a check next to.  I put the ballot in the spoiled ballot envelope but didn’t spoil it–I hoped that someone at the office would be able to salvage it.
Because of that, though, and how Black John was, Instead of staying at the supervisor table or taking turns at the main table, for the better part of the day I stayed by the Opti-scan area to help people with the paper ballots.  I don’t know what Black John does on his regular job (if he has one), but he acts like he works for the government.  He doesn’t know much, but acts like what he does know is invaluable.  He wants to help people as little as possible, figuring if they do it wrong it’s their fault.  He was constantly impatient with people, motioning them to hurry along, and his voice would rise half an octave, revealing his temperament.
Mostly he sat at the end of the main table, where basically the job was to take their voter ticket and hand them a paper ballot.  And most of what we did was touch screen.  Of course, he couldn’t do this part right.  We were busy so I made a separate line for people doing paper, to clear up the area in front of the table.  All six paper booths were full, and I had two people waiting.  He gave someone a ballot and basically just motioned in my direction.  The lady walks over to the booths, which are between me and Black John, right as one opens up and goes to it.  I had to gently direct her to the back of my line.  I got that straightened out, then walked over to Black John.  Politely, with a smile, I said, “Hey, John, go ahead and send the people voting paper to come to me.  I have a line there.” He nodded, and said, “That’s fine.”
Really?  Really, is it fucking fine?  I wasn’t asking your goddamn permission, and I wasn’t running the idea past you for your motherfucking approval.  I was acting as a supervisor trying to keep order telling your lazy assistant supervisor ass how it’s fucking going to be.  “That’s fine” is not the correct response, you arrogant son of a bitch.  Try this: “Okay, I’ll do that, and I’m sorry I’m so fucking lazy and incompetent that you have to do my job.  Sir.”  That would be better.  Asshole.
Just as Steve had a routine with the voters at the touch screen, I developed one at the Opti-scan.  At previous elections, I had always been a little jealous of Steve, because he got to be out there interacting with people.  The main stage!  That should be me!
I was doing this out of necessity, but I did enjoy it, and was glad to finally be actually doing something.  A voter would come over to vote paper, with a ballot in their hand.  Usually they would try to hand it to me, because Black John would halfheartedly motion in my direction and mumble to them, “Give it to him.”
No, dipshit, they don’t “give it to me.”  They come over to me WITH IT, and I would show them what to do.  Three things:
“Good morning, ma’am, how are you?  Nope, that’s yours.   Right this way, we have an opening.  Let me explain briefly what we have here.  First, make sure you fill in a good dark circle on your choices–”
I then would show them the large example printed on the cardboard privacy sheathing.  For anyone below the age of 50 I would  add, “Because you wouldn’t believe what I have seen today.”
Next, I would turn the ballot over for them.  “Don’t forget that there are items on BOTH sides of the ballot.  When you are done, stick it in this cardboard sleeve for privacy and bring it to me, and I’ll show you how to enter your ballot.”
Of course–of course I said that to every single person.  We had over two hundred people vote paper, and over four hundred vote touch screen.  Most people wanted touch screen, but older people and paranoids wanted paper.  I think I would recommend touch screen to the older people, especially those with a touch of palsy or other shaky conditions.  It’s bigger print on the screen, and an easier, surer way to vote.
But people would stand in line for the touch screen.  Usually people would take paper because it was quicker, but often both were full and people would have to wait regardless.  However, a few times there were openings on paper, and a line for touch.  On those occasions, I would walk over to the line.
“So you all are in line for the touch screen?”  Nods.  I deepened my voice.  “Who wants to join me on the dark side, and do paper?  No waiting.”  I entertained the crowd and did what I could to keep the line moving.

People Who Need People

Our crew went to lunch at various time, according to a sign-in sheet.  I’m going to make the next sign in sheet, and bring it with me, with markings for party affiliation, because two people of the same party aren’t supposed to go to lunch at the same time, and leave the poll that unbalanced, like Black John and Pat did when they left at four.
And why four o’clock?  That’s not a goddamn lunchtime.  What the hell were they thinking?  I didn’t notice it because we have two Johns, and I thought it was the other one.  But they both left at four.  Of course, even with them gone, things went well.  The only problem we had was when Steve went to lunch.  Black John had to get off his ass and work for an hour at the touch screen, and I had to manage the mess and control the crowd while he thumb-fingered his surly ass around.
When other people went to lunch, I filled in and did other jobs, but still jumped up and went over to the paper booths to help.  No one else was.
I take that back.  Steve was back and forth whenever I wasn’t there.  We kept things moving.  But I sat at the first position and refreshed myself on that job.  At the first position, you take their ID (there is a list of acceptable ones), filled out a voter ticket, had them print their name on it, and then directed them to the next person, depending on their last name.  The books went A-G, H-O, and P-Z.  Pretty much every time I was saying the alphabet in my head–
The voter ticket is initialed by a republican and a democratic poll worker, usually sitting in alternating spots at the table.
And I spent some time with the books, too.  You take the voter ticket and ID, look up the name, and initial the book, let the Dem next to me initial it.  Turn to the voter, and have them sign on the line, and initial next to the address acknowledging that the address is correct.  In the book would be the ballot style also, but since there were no city-wide elections, the ballots were all one style.  It simplified things greatly.
Then based on the type of voting they chose, I would direct them to Steve or Black John.
Of course, there might be a problem.  Like their address is wrong, or their name isn’t in the book, or their name is wrong because they got married.  In that event, I would switch hats back to my primary job as supervisor.  We did a lot of affidavit voting that day, as well as directing people to the correct polling place.
One young man came in, said he was sent here by another polling place.  He’s not in our book.  I get the PDA, ask him for his name and address.  He doesn’t vote here.  He votes exactly where he came from.  I wanted to call the office, but the phones had been busy all day–essentially we were on our own.
I had some confidence here:  I’ve delivered pizza everywhere, I know where everything is.  I know from his address that logically he is too far away.  And the place he is supposed to vote is close to him.  And, that’s how the shit works.  In the PDA, it says that is where he votes.  I gave him my personal cell number.  “Go back there.  Tell them you vote there.  Tell them to call me if they have a problem.  I’m the supervisor here.”
They never called.  I guess they got it right.
But as adept as I was, I understood that other people could have problems.  Every time a voter came to the problem table, I tried to grab the PDA before Pat, because she couldn’t–you know, she just not good with machines.  The little tricks about searching a database are what I do on my day job.  Eventually, she just started handing it to me.
We had one voter problem that might bring about a change in policy, or at least a clarification.  A woman had just been in recently with a driver’s license that had expired four days ago.  Erma asked me about it.  “Well, I know you have a certain amount of time–30, 60, or 90 days–to renew that.  So we’ll take it.  No problem.  And the woman was grateful, because she didn’t realize it had expired.
Shortly after that, a very old woman came in, handed Erma her license.  It was expired.
It expired ten years ago.
Shit.  What do we do?
We couldn’t find anything in the book about it.  Did she have anything else?  A utility bill?  (A utility bill is valid ID if it is current and has the correct address on it.  Meanwhile, a Driver’s license doesn’t have to have the correct address on it.  And mine doesn’t.)
Her daughter had driven her up, and said they would go home and look, and return.
She did, still with nothing good.  The Election Board sends out a voter ID card, which is yellow, and an election notification, which is white.  The white one is not ID, but the yellow one is.   She had the white one.  Crap.  One lesson I remember from all of our classes is that you do want to do what you can to get people to vote.  And I surely did not want local news vans showing up outside my poll.  Oh, Hell no.
She had her prescription bottle.  No.  She had an insurance card.  Geez.  She had a something so old it was rolled like papyrus.
I turned to Pat.  “The intent and purpose of showing ID is to prove they are who they say they are.  Based on the evidence, I believe she is who she says she is.”
Pat nodded.  “I do too.  Okay.”  We let her vote.
When the roving officials came by, the last thing she wanted was a problem, because there had been problems all over.  But I explained what happened and what we had done.  And also this:  “It just says ‘driver’s license.’  It doesn’t even say it has to be valid.  Nowhere does it specifically say if it can or cannot be expired.”
She was astounded.  This was something new they were going to have to look at.  I had set a precedent, I guess.
Just then an angry young man came in, so he happened to be there when the roving officials were there and the Pat and Black John were at lunch.  I asked her, “That’s not supposed to happen, is it?”  No.  But the angry young man interrupted and got my attention.  He said he had called a week ago, and whomever he talked to said he would be in the supplemental pages.  He was not.  He should be in the PDA.  He was not.
Angry Young Man was getting angrier, feeding on self-righteous indignation and hoping to be able to go to Channel 4 for a voter fraud case.  I knew we wouldn’t get through to the office when I called, but I tried everything, with the officials watching me, and–I sensed–they didn’t want to get involved.  They wanted this to go away or be handled by someone else, and not have their names dragged into it.  The lady looked at me blankly, and her bipartisan companion looked for a bus to throw me under.
Angry Young Man produced his iPhone, and played the message of the call from the Election Board for me on speaker phone.  It was enough for me, and I told them.  “I’m going with it.  I’m going to fill out an affidavit, mark it as “call from Election Board”, and the person on the message said their name is Michael.  We’ll get him voted.”
Angry Young Man was less angry as he filled out the form, and the election officials were relieved that this was handled.  The lady (I never did catch her name) confided to me that there had been some problems with this election.  Not necessarily irregularities, but some technical glitches.  The phones, for one, and not being able to get anyone from the office on them.  We had an inordinate number of voters that I had to send to other places that used to vote here, but the boundary lines had changed.  And the booklet with the voting places had some errors in it that had caused me more than once to scan through it completely rather than going straight to the number for verification.  The number didn’t match the number in the PDA.  She told me, though, that there were other problems, like numbers of voters had been dropped completely off the rolls.  They were going to go next to drop off more affidavits at a poll that had run out–and we had all been given a pad of them.

It’s Twilight Time

Finally, it was almost over.  At ten minutes to close, a young woman came to the problem table.  She wasn’t in the book.  I looked her up in the PDA; she lived on my street.  “Hey, you don’t vote here.  Do you have time?  What time is it?  Ten till?  Can you make it downtown in ten minutes?”
Her eyes went wide.  I’ve been here 15 hours, I’ve worked my ass off, and I’ve been (mostly) professional.  I can have some fun.  Right?  Before she had a heart attack, I told her, “You need to go to Jana.  You can get there.  It’s about three minutes away.”
She paused.  “Jana?  Oh, I know–”
“GO!”  She went.

Working In The Coal Mine

We aren’t allowed to discuss the numbers at all on election day, but that was a few days ago, so now I can talk.  There are about 1400 registered voters in our precinct, and we had over 600 voters.  That’s about a 45% turnout.  Not bad for a non-Presidential election.  At that one in 08, we had an 80% turnout.  It was the first one I worked.  All of the little ones I’ve worked since then have been less than 200 people–about ten to fifteen percent.
This time, I didn’t even have time to read a book.

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1 Comment »

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  1. To me, election day is like that party that no one really wants to go to but everyone talks about. You know the one.
    The day after election day is even worse. It is like those three drunk kids in the corner who are determined to stay at the party and talk about how great it is.


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