Escape from the Poll-Work Chain Gang

Pop Rocket, November 2012

Wow, I got fired. Sort of.
     I've been a poll worker for the county for something like a decade, showing up at the precinct in the freezing crack of dawn on election day, helping voters navigate the increasingly complex process of exercising their franchise, enjoying the fleeting esprit of building a working team from a group of random strangers as we endure one very long day of dull imprisonment punctuated with bursts of enthusiastic customer service. It's an odd little world that everyone aspiring to community involvement should experience, where small-r republican idealism meets a chain gang over a potluck supper.     I'd missed a couple of elections when they called me for the state primaries this year, and there were some pretty big changes in the system and its technology to catch up on, but it went well enough and I found work in the newly created office of Election Day Technician, aka tech wrangler or house geek. The county scheduled me to do that again for November in the same voting center, and I was looking forward to it because the team there is happy and efficient, and puts on a good feed besides.     So it came as a surprise last month, a few days before the regular pre-election training day, that I got another call from the County. The elections official organizing the poll-worker staff, who impressed me with her ability to be both assiduously professional and personable at the same time, apologized profusely, but the County wasn't able to use me at the polls because I'd taken "a public position on an election issue." I took that to refer to this column last month, in which I set out opinions on the propositions. OK, well, I might've been a little harsh about some of them.     I've been writing about local issues for six or seven years, of course, but apparently this was the first time anyone at the County noticed, so props to Pop Rocket, I guess. Someone's actually reading.     My elections official, who shall remain nameless, as I'm sure she'd prefer, was quick to offer another position in the election hierarchy, answering calls from the poll workers, fielding their questions and helping solve their problems. This presumably put a sufficiently safe distance between scary old me and the voters to make everyone comfy again. (Good workers are hard to come by, and if you're not afraid of a computer, you might consider signing up.)     I don't mind a bit, I get the picture and I don't take it personally. (Taking things personally is a bad habit everyone should try to break.) I think it's a testament to how seriously our elections officials are about their duties that they want to avoid any possible perception of bias in the system. I know these people, from the County Recorder on down, to be sincere in their dedication to doing things the right way, rigorous in their execution, and just good people.     I do have to wonder about the "public position" thing, though. It seems a little hard to get a line around, particularly in our age of personal blogs and social networks, where proclaiming opinions and chronicling one's life in sweaty detail in public is so common as to be almost expected.     It's not like poll workers don't have opinions. I'm reminded of one who stated with great conviction that George Washington was a Republican, and another who expressed during training to all in earshot how much he looked forward to "wiping out" Democrats as a species. But I'm completely confident that neither would say or do anything less than decorous in the polling place, and I've yet to meet a poll worker who struck me as even capable of trying anything untoward. It's as hard to imagine as having someone try to steal a vote. It just doesn't happen, whatever the scaremongers would have you believe.     As of this writing, on magazine deadline, I don't know what my call-center job will be like in detail or how the election turns out. All I know for sure is that it's a promotion to something new and I won't be trapped all day in a place where a Roman torture machine is an object of worship, peach cobbler notwithstanding. Who knows, the food might be even better.     I just want to assure you that however the electoral map has tilted and whatever fresh hell we must now anticipate from the political system, your vote in Yavapai County is in the hands of people who care and the system is impeccably run. So here's a shout-out to my fellow PWs: you guys rock.
Followup, Nov 27: Arizona has taken a lot of heat from the left over the seemingly immense amount of time it has taken to finalize the vote canvass, placing it in context with the Legislature's attempts to discourage and oppress non-Republican voters and implying that the slow vote count is part of that effort. I don't buy it.
     We interviewed Ken Bennett on The People's Business, and he says that the voting patterns and canvassing process have been equivalent to those in previous presidential elections, which is easy enough to confirm. Different this time was the fallout from redistricting, which I expect led to a lot of voters being confused about where they were supposed to vote, forcing more provisional votes. Further, a lot of voters on the early-voting list apparently held their ballots until election day, and others were apparently encouraged by party hacks unnamed to go to the polls after they'd already voted early to "make sure" their votes were counted. These factors monkeywrenched the system as well. 
     In the past week or so Bennett has released statements signaling legislation to improve the election system, and the state Senate has instituted a new committee to that end, chaired by Michelle Reagan, generally known as a moderate. The few specifics I've seen indicate a look at going statewide with the voting-center system used here in Yavapai and in Yuma counties this year as pilot programs. This I think would be a good thing, as it would only expand voter access to the polls.

No comments: