Democracy (In)Action

Democracy (In)Action

If voting is your civic duty, what does that make volunteering to work the polls on election day?

“Thank you for your service.” That’s what a few voters said as the exited the empty middle school gymnasium.

I didn’t really think of it as service. We were being paid a flat rate of $175 in exchange for our labor. When I first saw the sum I thought of how many al pastor burritos that would buy (16). Watching my stocks undulate like a fish performing its mating dance, this was the closest thing to a get rich quick scheme I could find. It’s more of a get teen rich excruciatingly slowly sort of scheme.

Upon further review, the effective hourly rate equated to nearly minimum wage. When you’re out of work, in school or retired, it’s a way to make a few bucks. I often fall into the trap of doing things because:

  • A) I don’t have anything better to do.
  • B) I love a good story. Sitting at home applying for jobs doesn’t make for engaging stories. (“And then what happened after you clicked submit?!”)

There are periods of time that were reminiscent of being stuck at an airport during a flight delay.

I failed to realize how much of a time commitment being an election judge is. If you get the email and think it’s a worthwhile adventure, here are a few things to know.

4 Things to Know before becoming an Election Judge

  1. It’s about 20 hours of work. Setting up the day before, plus setting up and breaking down the equipment.
  2. 15 of those 20 hours are spent in a polling place, possibly a gym or church, in one day. It’s highly unlikely the chairs are comfortable.
  3. You’ll have to wake up before 5AM.
  4. You’ll have to be somewhere at 5AM.

Depending on how busy your polling place is, there are periods of time that were reminiscent of being stuck at an airport during a flight delay or layover. There’s not much you can do. You brought a book, but you never read it. You pace the room discovering mundane things to spark your intrigue like a baby seeing things for the first time, like these signs posted around the school’s gym.

You think of all the other things you could achieve in 15 hours: fly to Australia, fly pretty much anywhere, watch all of the movies nominated for an Oscar, listen to an entire audiobook, start a campaign for public office.

At some point you begin talking to yourself (for me it was hour 9). I debated doing pull-ups every hour. I ended up only doing a few when the gym was empty, but it’s the thought that counts. You make up games to pass the time. After the first hundred voters, I started guessing which party’s ballot a voter would request. As a lover of statistics and trends there were some generalizations that held about voters. The older crowd leans heavily republican. Younger voters in this district weren’t as heavily democratic as stats typically show. Elephants dressed better than donkeys. There didn’t appear to be clear trends in terms of gender or race. The average age of voters who cast their ballot was probably in the 50s.

Weird Things I Overheard, Saw, Learned

  • A group of volunteers can turn into “Lord of the Flies” when volunteers start taking lunch breaks.
  • Some precincts have nice voters. One guy brought us a box Girl Scout cookies. I may have eaten half the box.
  • Schools have motion sensors connected to the lights. Those lights will turn off unexpectedly in the bathroom. Eat your fiber and stay hydrated.
  • Spotted: A man was wearing jeans. They had all tags and stickers still on them. Shame you can’t try before you buy with politics.
  • Overheard: Vote for all the Irish names. That’s what my mom taught me.
  • Voters love stickers.

Fun fact I learned: Illinois has an open primary so voters have to declare which party’s ballot they want. This was news to me and several other voters who were extremely cagey about declaring their party. But, it seemed some voters were voting for the other team. I suspect to either cast a vote against someone they really didn’t want to see in November, or potentially to vote for a candidate who would be easier to defeat.

There were some things I learned about myself and my relationship with working. I have mentioned my interest in efficiency on a few interviews, but yesterday affirmed it. It pains me to witness inefficient processes. I fully acknowledge my way isn’t always the best, but in the hours of checking voters in, I kept finding ways to trim seconds off of the process. At my peak, I could get someone verified and checked-in in less than a minute. Often I could complete two check-ins before another election judge completed one. The weird thing, which I am cognizant of, is that it really didn’t make a difference. Aside from a few rushes, most of the day was a steady stream of a few voters, never requiring expedient processing. It has been several years since I was responsible for a role that was heavily repetitive. If I can share a secret, there’s something really gratifying about doing something with a definite start and stop that can be constantly improved. When I was a cashier, my goal was to get people through my line as fast as possible. The same principles guided my work whenever I had a routine task in different offices. Managing teams and revenue channels is a much more complex beast without a clear finish line, but it was nice for a day to be reminded of where I started my career and where I have progressed.

Sitting at a polling place for 15 hours is an interesting study in democracy. Having studied political science and history, this went beyond the text books and was an opportunity to see democracy in action. We were able to register voters who cast their first vote yesterday. I saw a line of voters at the door at 5:50AM ready to cast their vote before going to work. I saw husbands and wives casting their ballots (some weird couple dynamics where husbands said their wives vote how they tell them to vote). I saw parents bringing their children to vote (don’t worry, they were of age). I saw voters updating their addresses and last name to reflect moving and marriages.

As long as those 15 hours were, it was but a microcosm of American history. After all that, I didn’t even cast my vote in the primary since was at the polling place all day I didn’t submit my vote by mail.

After a long day, I needed some fuel.

This is part of the print out results from the full day of voting. It reminded me of old ticker tape or my receipt at the taqueria.

2 thoughts on “Democracy (In)Action

  1. That’s a pretty cool thing to do. Once, when I was voting, the worker refused to accept my signature because she couldn’t read it. And I told her that the signature that I use and have used for decades isn’t legible. I had evidence of it in my wallet. If I wrote out my name in cursive, it would resemble my signature in no way, and I’d claim it was a forgery. She nonetheless insisted that I write out my name in cursive in the “signature” box.

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