Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Flexing My American Rights

Today is Election Day in the United States.

I am personally one who believes that if one doesn't vote, they basically give up their right to complain about anything that's going wrong.  I also believe that some of the people I know who are unable to vote for various reasons are probably more deserving of that right than those who don't voice their choice.

It's always interesting to me when people are "not into politics."  It's fine to be frustrated by it all.  But it just feels so important to know what's going on just to be able to protect your rights.

So, while I'm not wanting to scare away my readers, I want to stress that I also agree to disagree.  I won't care less for you as a human being if you don't agree with me.

Now while I've always believed in the the power of voting, I've never taken much more of a role other than casting my ballot.

Since I've been unemployed, a friend recommended that I sign up to be a poll worker.  Apparently, for the one election day, a poll worker would work the entire day and be paid a stipend.  I hesitated a bit, just because I wasn't sure what I would be doing on election day.  But I went for it, and before I knew it, I was assigned as an Inspector to my voting location, but for a different ward and precinct.
Allston-Brighton Wards 21 and 22
and their Precincts
Since it was my first time working the polls, I had to attend a short training.  I made my way to Boston's City Hall, and sat in a room full of new Inspectors.

Some things I learned from this training include information about who the Inspectors (people who help check you in, check you out, explain the ballot, tell you where you need to go by putting up signs and greeting you at the door, and anything else that might need to be done), Clerks (people who help check you in, keep track of numbers, and keep track of the voters), and Wardens (basically the big boss, who decides when breaks are, what your roles are, in charge of the ballot machine, and in charge of everything) are.

I also learned that people will generally ask questions that have already been asked.  Also, people are generally unappreciative of the choices that they are able to make.

At one point during the training, I realized that people were getting really grumpy at the training leader.  They were unhappy that things were going so slow or that people were asking the same questions, and I just heard a lot of mumbling and grumbling.

I was getting a bit annoyed at the time suck, but I knew that I had signed up and sent in my application for this job.  Naturally, I would need to be trained on how to do my job correctly, and it would have been a horrible idea to go into the polling place completely unaware of my job duties.

But seriously, I felt that I had nothing to complain about considering that we were all being PAID to attend the training.  I really just wanted to say, "Suck it up, people.  Be thankful that you even have this opportunity."

Working the Polls
Gosh, this has been the earliest I've had to wake up in a really long time that didn't involve a shoe avalanche caused by Mencken.

Today, I worked from 6am-8pm.  I just have to say right off the bat that my feet are killing me!  Even though I was wearing comfortable shoes, my tootsies are exhausted.  Being who I am (that is, an event organizer), I was up on my feet a lot mainly because I couldn't just sit there when I saw that things needed to be done.

I also want to say right off the bat that this was one of the most rewarding voting experiences of my life.

"Do you know what ward you vote at?"
Firstly, it was fascinating to see how many people are completely unaware of where they need to vote, and even more fascinating how many people have not gone through the appropriate channels to change their information with the election department.  I understand that Allston and Brighton have a lot of residents who move a lot, so it makes sense that people might not know the specifics of where they vote.

By the end of the day, people were definitely more frustrated with the entire process.  They had worked a full day, some had come from the wrong location, and some had come into the wrong location.  At one point, one woman was exhausted and frustrated at being redirected to our location, stating that the previous poll workers were rude and she basically cried before heading to us.

Once 5pm hit, I started to greet people at the door and direct them to their correct table.  I really think it helped to lessen the clusterfuck at the doorways and prevented people from standing for a long time in the wrong line.

"I'm from the University."
One interesting experience (that hits on how much people take their rights for granted) was when one dude came in trying to take pictures of the polls and voting.  He took a picture, and I suddenly felt like he was really impinging on peoples privacy.  I called to him saying that I really wasn't sure why he was taking pictures and directed him to talk to the Warden.

As I stated earlier, the Warden is in charge of the entire show.  One thing I knew was that if I was uncertain about anything, I needed to ask the Warden.  She echoed my sentiments on uncertainty, and luckily there was someone from the Election Department present at the moment.  He proceeded to call someone and settle on the fact that no one knew who this guy was and hadn't been told about someone coming in to take pictures.

This guy had the most irritating attitude.  His responses consisted of, "I'm from the University Pollworkers Project" (to which I thought, ya..um..which university in Boston and so what?), and "I've been taking pictures all day at the State House" (to which I said, Ya well, this isn't the State House.).

I couldn't believe the crap that was coming out of his mouth.  If he's part of the Suffolk University Pollworkers Project, shouldn't he just go to the polls where Suffolk University students are working?  He didn't even ask if anyone was a student before taking pictures of the voting area.

Everything he said to justify what he was doing just felt so entitled.  And now that I know what this Pollworkers Project is, I feel like I now understand why I felt very little appreciation for the position at the training I attended.

Staying Impartial
Truly, the most difficult thing I had to do today was assist two different women in filling out their ballots.  One woman was legally blind and needed someone to read the names and the questions.  Another woman had hurt her hand and was unable to use it.  One of them voted for the Republican candidate for Governor, and it hurt my soul a bit to fill out that bubble.  Another woman voted very differently on the questions from how I voted, and it also felt difficult to explain them to her without sounding biased.

It's part of our job to not influence votes.  And it was definitely an exercise in restraint. 

While I'm a little frustrated at the Suffolk University Pollworkers Project, especially considering that I would prefer more of the long time residents to sign up as poll workers, I understand the basis of it.  The majority of poll workers are much older, while all the voters are much younger.  I do think that more residents should know about this opportunity and really take advantage of it.

I definitely found myself asking specific questions depending on what I noticed from the people who walked through the door.  For example, I would ask, "Do you know what ward your vote at?" to anyone who seemed younger than 40.  However, to anyone who seemed older I would ask, "Do you know where you need to go?"

I definitely caught myself whenever the words would leave my mouth.  Near the end of the evening, I started just asking, "Do you know what ward you vote at?" to everyone who came in through the door.

Highly Recommended
Overall, it was great interacting with so many people who have worked the polls for so many years.  It was fun to chat with them and I felt so welcomed as the newbie.  I chatted a lot with one of the Police Officers that was assigned to work with us in the morning, and connected to all the workers present. 

One of my favorite things was to greet people who said, "This is my first time."  How amazing!  How inspiring!  How really, truly American.  To be there and be part of someone's initiation rites as an American citizen is really a powerful experience.

It was fascinating to be behind the scenes of the voting polls.  It really made me appreciate the poll workers more than I ever have before.  It make me appreciate efficiency as well as being prepared before showing up to vote.  It made me appreciate the entire political process.

I would most definitely do this again every election year if possible, and I highly recommend the experience to all my peers.

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