Oh lord, he's doing what now?!
Guess what I did this weekend! I decided that little old church ladies and shouldn't get to have all
the fun, and signed up to be a poll worker on election day. Isn't that awesome? I got trained and everything, it was a short (less than a half-day long) class and I learned all the ins and outs of helping the public vote on Election Day, state and federal law, everything I need to know. There was even video footage we got to watch of typical interactions between voters and poll workers.
The training really impressed me. It was very thorough, and the instructors were totally dedicated and geeky about elections. In fact, one of them was actually the same woman who answered the phone when I called to inquire, and turns out to be in charge of many aspects of the whole operation, so I was impressed that she also did training and answered the phone.
Their genuine love and earnest admiration for the process of democracy came through loud and clear. They have an acutely-felt ethical interest in running free and fair elections. The people in this system seem very well-meaning and principled. One example is the ridiculous number of redundant checks and balances, counts and cross-checks, that made me believe for the first time that our elections are really difficult to rig. Yes, really.
We learned about poll watchers, who are representatives of the political parties and citizens' groups who are allowed to observe us at work. I was told to expect between two and eight poll watchers to be present at my polling station.
It really is a marvel how elections come together. The analogy was to setting up a small business with branches all over the city, hiring and training a complete workforce, just to be in business for a single hectic day, at the end of which the whole thing is disbanded after reconciling the books.
One really fun aspect is that as sworn poll workers (we do take an oath) we get to boss figures of authority around. We can kick out anyone we please if they're violating the law, so as my instructor said, this is the one day on the calendar when we get to tell elected officials and candidates what they can and cannot do. For instance, some candidates whose advisors haven't coached them in the law and etiquette of election day might try to shake hands and introduce themselves in line. This is absolutely forbidden and we can kick them out for it. Candidates, politicians, elected officials: these people are only allowed inside to cast their own ballot, and to do nothing else. Likewise, police officers. The only reason a police officer may enter is responding to an emergency, or when accompanied by a special kind of election official with a badge, or to bring us food and drink! Isn't that great? On November 4th, the police department will be my maid. On November 4th, the law is above all other authority, and we are the embodiment of the law.
Don't wear your McCain or Obama t-shirt or button to the polling place, by the way, and don't bring election material. It's not allowed. A nice poll worker like me might lend you his coat to cover it, but the best plan is really to show up in normal clothing with no political paraphernalia on your person. You can't even wear a button that says "I Like Ike", even though Ike was already president and is dead.
There is no lunch break for an election worker. We'll get ten minute breaks sporadically, but we can't leave the premises all day. You also can't use your cellphone or any other electronic device. At all. I already have a couple of friends lined up to check on me and bring me provisions every few hours, although they obviously won't be able to linger and hang out with me at work. I may make a sandwich or something. I have some time to plan how I'll prepare for the whole thing.
A lot of the stories they told of how people act on Election Day were hilarious and also sad, and a lot of the seemingly weird rules they have in place were explained to us like this: "we wouldn't have this rule, except that people really do try to do this!" For instance, one husband brought his wife in, who had Alzheimer's and couldn't vote, and wanted to come in with her and "help" her vote. He became irate when confronted and declared, "I've been telling her how to vote for forty years!" Another woman brought in a bus full of people whose caretaker she was, and announced that she was going to help them all vote, and became apoplectic when turned down. It turned out that only two of the eight people she brought were even capable of voting. She was obviously just going to get to vote eight times, and wasn't really planning on expressing the will of those under her care.
Anyone who needs assistance to vote has to request it themselves, and they have to ask for a particular individual to help them (be it their caregiver or one of us). Their caregiver can't just waltz in and vote for them. If someone can't request assistance to vote (and we can be very liberal with interpreting this, in cases of extreme disability) then there will be no assistance. We will allow them to go in and try to vote, but there is no gimme or second chance: if they vote wrong and the vote is recorded, it is done and there's no going back and fixing it.
By the way, it was made very clear to me that I will be yelled at by irate citizens and argued with extensively for enforcing the law, but my oath is to enforce the law and I have to do it. The all-purpose out is that if a voter doesn't like the law, they should get in touch with their lawmaker and express themselves and see about having it changed. My job is to enforce the law as it's written, not as I or the voter wish it was written. I am steeled for it and prepared to be the bearer of bad news and to get yelled at and accused of squelching your free speech and taking away your franchise, etc. Bring it, bitches.
In conclusion, as late as I was to this, I was able to sneak in under the wire and be trained to help the public vote on Election Day. If you are for some perverse reason interested in getting involved with helping our ancient compact of government of, by, and for the People become manifest one more time, there may still be time in your area for you to get involved, so make that phone call or Google search and find out. I am thrilled to my toes and can't wait for Election Day! Although I'm going to hate waking up at 5 AM. That's usually when I'm going to bed.