Election Day: A Recounting
November 4th was one of the best days of my life! The day's theme is "fabulous". I set my alarm for 5 AM, and woke up on my own at 4:45 out of anxiety and excitement (as I tend to do when I know I have a big day ahead). I showered but didn't bother shaving, because I thought I looked fine with my three-day growth and didn't feel like spending one more minute at home. I headed out, got a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and drove to my precinct.
Everyone was there early or on time, except one Indian guy who showed up five minutes late. But it was no problem, because we didn't even have much to do when we showed up. Since our precinct was a special site where voters who had a problem with their registration were being sent, and we were expecting to be one of the busiest sites of the day, they delivered our voting machines and computers already set up and ready to go. We just had to unbox everything and plug it all in.
My precinct had 8 other people working: 4 of us on computers, 3 on voting machines, one person at the door, and the CEO of the precinct. We idly chatted as we set up our equipment at a leisurely pace and got to know one another. Everyone I worked with was a fabulous person! I was expecting to be the only person under 30, and to work with 8 church ladies who got lost on their way to bingo. As it turned out, 5 of us were young people; three men and two women. One of us was an adorable geriatric Democrat white guy with great big Obama ears, and the rest were women in their 40s and 50s. The Indian guy brought some kind of stinky brown-people breakfast his wife made him. As he was eating it he tried to apologize for the smell and I would have none of it, I told him I love the smell of pungent Indian spices and garlic!
I worked a computer station, and sat with the Indian guy to my left and a young white grad student on my right. We were told to expect to be one of the busiest precincts. In reality, we turned out to be one of the deadest precincts in America, except for five huge rushes: very early in the morning, then at noon, then at 2 PM, again at 5 PM, and a bit more than a hundred people showed up at the last minute before we closed the polls (we were warned this would probably happen). Nonetheless we had great long stretches of quiet, periods of 20 minutes with no voters and nothing to do but play Solitaire and Minesweeper and get to know each other. And get to know each other we did. We had some great conversations. One of the girls kept coming up with fun questions for us to bat around, like "what reality show would you be on?" or "what are your two favorite movies?" We also read everyone's horoscopes out loud from the newspaper.
Everyone working was in a fantastic mood from the start, and all the voters were in a very good mood as well. I think our bright and chipper demeanors had to have rubbed off on them. When we were really dead and dealing with 5 or 10 voters an hour, sometimes we'd just have one voter in the room and we'd all be chatting up the voter and telling jokes as one of us took care of her on the computer and then escorted her to a voting machine. It was really amazing how many people were voting for the first time. And not just young people-many were well into their fifties or sixties and voting for the very first time. The whole room applauded all our first-time voters after they left the voting machine.
One of the most fun aspects of the day was that those of us working on the computers competed to invent the best ways to put the voters' minds at ease. For instance, I came up with the phrase "this is your ticket to vote", regarding a piece of paper we handed the voter after taking care of their details on the computer. As if this was an amusement park ride. Isn't that a lot better than "application to vote"? The Indian guy started telling people as soon as he hit the Print button that "you'll be voting in about two minutes", just to let them know that it wasn't going to take much longer. I started telling people immediately upon looking them up and confirming their eligibility that "you are eligible to vote, and you will be voting in this location today". Obvious to me, not obvious to them since they'd been turned away from their own precinct and sent here, so why not tell them immediately instead of making them wonder how long they're going to be in bureaucratic limbo? So every time someone invented a good customer service practice, we discussed it and decided we would all adopt it.
I really hated having to turn away a voter who was military. She had been registered, her registration became invalid when she moved away, she came back and sent in her change of address, and it just never got there. Unfortunately she was unable to vote with us, even though one of the poll watchers came over to advocate her cause, because we're unable to bend the law even a little bit, and her status in our records was unambiguous: she was ineligible to vote. We sent her to yet another location to cast a provisional ballot. We were told about 90% of provisional ballots are invalidated, but those who really did send in their information and just slipped through the cracks do get their votes counted. I really hope her vote counted.
Poll watchers and media: we had maybe seven or eight poll watchers throughout the day, never more than two at a time. I don't remember all the organizations they represented, but one was from the League of Women Voters, and she was the one who tried to intervene on behalf of the military woman whom we were forced to turn away. The media came three times to get some footage, but left because we were dead and there wasn't much to tape. We were so dead during one part of the morning, after the rush, that I joked that I should dress up in a costume and go out on the street with a sandwich board to flag down cars and recruit us some voters. We also joked about arm-wrestling over who gets to work with the voter when a single voter would come into our empty precinct. I felt a little bit guilty that I was being wasted on such a dead site and asked my CEO if I could be sent to a busier precinct, but she nixed that because she'd worked this location before and it was likely to get extremely busy with no notice.
In training, we were promised police slaves to bring us coffees and donuts throughout the day, so we perked up every time a police officer showed up in uniform, which was about three times an hour, but they were all there to vote! So our promised police slaves never happened. Luckily I have fabulous friends who are my heroes. I lined them up well before election day to bring me stuff. I had four people lined up but only ended up using two of my lifelines, but I'm so grateful that everyone was ready and willing to be at my beck and call. When the promised police slaves did not look like they were going to materialize any time soon, I ended up asking my friends to bring extra stuff for my coworkers. My gorgeous and very short Ethiopian friend B. had the breakfast shift, and she brought me a turkey and artichoke sandwich, some broccoli and cheddar soup, and some great big cookies (about the size of my face) to give away to my coworkers. She was awesome. I ended up giving away both the cookies and the soup, and eating only the sandwich. I didn't bother with the friend I had lined up for lunch because I was too busy for hunger. Later on another friend, J., who had the dinner shift, brought more provisions. I had him bring us one of those coffee travelers for offices, sort of like a wine box full of Starbucks plus a bunch of cups, sugars, half and half, stirrers, etc. I also had him grab us 24 donuts. He was awesome too. People are beautiful. I'm taking them both out for dinner to thank them soon. No one else had friends bringing them stuff! Except one poor woman had her husband lined up to bring her lunch, and he was about two hours late, and he was only bringing her White Castle anyway. Gross. I foisted my broccoli and cheddar soup on her to prevent her from fainting. I am clearly the best husband and it's a shame there's only one of me to go around.
We were forbidden from bringing any outside electronic devices into the precinct, so I had to make my phone calls outside during little ten-minute breaks we got sporadically. We were also forbidden to know or discuss any election news. After we closed up shop, as we filed out at about 10 PM or so, someone informed us that McCain had conceded. We finally discussed our own votes and we all (but one) turned out to be Obama voters! So we decided to meet up at a bar and watch some election coverage and party a little bit. I had a nice dinner of salmon and mango chutney and got home by, oh, about 2 AM, and then on Wednesday I slept in until 2 PM, stayed in bed until 4 PM, and finally recovered enough to be a productive and useful member of society again on Thursday.
It really was one of the best days of my life. I walked in energetic, chuffed, and in a beautiful and happy mood. So did all my coworkers. I left energetic, chuffed, and in a beautiful and happy mood, and so did they! At the end of the night, none of us looked like we'd just worked a 16-hour day starting at 5 AM.
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