I realize that a majority of my readers are not yet voting age, so I may be asking a moot question: How many of you had state primaries this Tuesday? My state had a primary! In fact, I worked as an election official in it. Now, before you get any ideas about my involvement, my role was quite minor. I was a clerk. Translated into actual job duties, this means I asked people for their driver's license; checked their address and birth date against the county's records; asked them which primary ballot they wanted--Democratic, Republican, or non-partisan judicial; then asked them to sign their name in our records. (I am always getting stuck as a clerk/secretary/recorder. As student editor of my college's literary magazine, I was first pick as secretary. I don't know why. Is it my glasses?) As mundane as this may sound, my job as an election clerk actually shaped up to be a rather interesting day, even though it lasted for nearly thirteen hours.
I would like to say I was picked as an election official because of some mystical qualifications I possess, like laser vision or the ability to correctly guess most of the answers on Wheel of Fortune, but the truth is my grandfather is good friends with the county election commissioner and the commissioner wanted to know if I was interested, because I have a reputation for being honest. I agreed, the $125 I'd be paid for working in one day was some small enticement, so I attended a two hour course last week and was told to show up at the city community center on Election Day at 7:30am. Simple enough, yes? Well, in theory.
In reality, I showed up to find what appeared to be utter bedlam. There were six tables set up for six different precincts with stacks of paperwork on each one and the head guy told me I was thirty minutes late. When I protested that the form I received told me to come at 7:30am, so by arriving at 7:25am I had assumed I was early, he hollered at the county clerk's assistant to send coherent instructions next time and ordered me over to a table. In theory, all of the inexperienced workers, like myself, should be paired with experienced workers. Instead, I soon found that of my four colleagues, only two had previous experience with election work. The rest of us were utter newbies. Heck, I always early vote at the clerk's office, so I had never even voted on Election Day before! Even better, we had the least number of workers per table and were assigned to cover three precincts, the most represented by one station. *twirls finger*
After some initial jitters, we finally determined who was doing what and took our seats. As is common in the small town I live in, I soon realized I knew all of my coworkers by association. The real estate agent who was technically our section's leader used to work with my uncle; the retiree who was my recorder comes in the library I work at all the time; the other clerk is the sister-in-law of one of my library colleagues; and the other recorder was my mother's fourth husband's landlord's wife (Seeing as that rent agreement was terminated following a meth lab explosion, I decided not to mention the association. ^^)
At first things were kind of crazy--for several reasons. In addition to the fact that we were handling three precincts between the five of us, we soon learned that there was no central location for voters to determine which precinct they belonged to and, since 90% of them had no idea what precinct they voted in--do they even look at their voter registration cards?--we became the default location for queries by virtue of our location closest to the door. There was only one map that detailed where precincts were located and said map spent a lot of time away from us, so most of the time we just had to estimate based on addresses. ("Oh, is that south of town? How far south? Hmm . . . I think you should go over there. If not, try the table next to it.")
We soon got in a routine and ended up being rather efficient with our traffic directions and identification confirmation procedures. Though our system was decidedly low tech (what with our handwritten confirmations and manual checking of ID), most people were relatively understanding. We did have some people who were outraged that we dare ask for ID. OMG! I didn't realize I was talking to a celebrity. Your biographical notice wasn't included in my welcome packet, pal. Now fork over your driver's license. I also had one woman who went ballistic when I asked for her birthdate, and she started kvetching about how old she was as I asked her to sign her name:
Me: "Ma'am, would you please sign your name."
Crazy Woman: "I am an old lady now!"
Me: Ma'am, would--"
Crazy Woman: "Just old!"
Me: "Um, ma'am, we need--"
Crazy Woman: "I am so old--"
Me: "Ma'am, please--"
Crazy Woman: "--that I--"
Crazy Woman: "--remember when these here elections were--
Me: "MA'AM! PLEASE SIGN--"
Crazy Woman: "OLD! OLD! OLD! OLD! OLD!"
Me: *contemplates stabbing crazy woman with pen before instead shoving paper in her face and wildly waving pen under her nose in a desperate attempt to shut her up*
In between refraining from murdering an old woman stuck in 1950 and trying to decipher people's addresses to direct them to the right polling station, I got my only exercise of the day by running into the break room to snatch doughnuts, cookies, and brownies to munch mindlessly.
As we had feared, come lunchtime we were stormed by voters. Before this, I had kept a careful mental tally of all of the people I know that I had seen. (This is a pastime in my hometown. When you see someone in public, you must tell your family when you get home. This is so we can compare notes on the last time we saw them with what we observed this time.) By now, everyone just started to blur together and if they told me to tell my grandma "hi" or passed along an insulting but affectionate greeting to my brother, I couldn't tell you if my life depended on it. I do remember my friend Dana came in, but that may be because he spoke to me directly and didn't treat me like a message service. (Take that, people who treat me like a message service and don't talk to me directly!) I begin to develop one of my splitting tension headaches, which always like to sneak up on me in the afternoons. Technically, none of us were allowed out of the voting area while the polls were open, so one of my friends stopped by and offered to bring me something to eat. I had already devoured a bowl of chicken stew, so I turned down the offer, though later I would regret doing so. :(
As the afternoon wore on, we had morphed into a lean, mean election machine. We were doling out ballots at warp speed. Full speed ahead! I was also mindlessly noshing on chips, cheese crackers, and what was left of the brownies at an alarming rate. At some point, I remembered taking that eating quiz on Auntie Sparknotes. (Any of you take it? Um, I didn't fare too well on it . . . ) I tried to stop by focusing on how incredibly numb my legs were from sitting for seven hours. I also began to pay attention to what other polling stations were doing. This only served to irritate me, because they were mispronouncing the ballot's name! The woman next to us was calling the non-partisan judicial ballots non-judicial ballots. Those ballots were only for judicial races. She was calling them the exact opposite what they were and, as an anal retentive obsessive compulsive perfectionist, I found this really pissed me off. I tried to remind myself what a jerk I was being and instead returned to focusing on my numb legs.
After about 5pm, I started to suffer the consequences of noshing on junk food non-stop. My stomach started to hurt and I felt nauseous. Fortunately, this coincided with a rush of after-work voters, so I didn't have time to be sick. I also noticed a drastic shift in everyone's personalities. After being locked in the same room for over nine hours, we all started to get stir-crazy. Everyone--myself included--started shifting in their seats (As if that was actually going to help) and jumping up every five minutes to check for signs of electioneering. (We feared sudden ninja attacks via campaign signs within 100 yards of the polls, hence the necessity of frequent stealth searches. No, honestly! We were most certainly not just temporarily running away to preserve our sanity. I swear! Election worker's honor!) We also started filling out the paperwork we needed to finish after the election about an hour before the polls closed while everyone obsessively checked their watches. Raucous celebration broke out when someone shouted we only had fifteen minutes left. Party time! Five minutes before the official closing time, we started putting away chairs and everything else, but we kept the ballots and ballot box on the table for the sake of appearances.
Our joy was tragically cut short when we tallied up the number of ballots we had left. You see . . . before leaving, we're required by law to count the number of voters our little station served and correlate that with the number of ballots used. Despite our best efforts--and repeated calculations--we always came up with three more ballots than we were supposed to have. Thirty minutes later, we still had the same screwy numbers and we all looked ready to cry . . . or kill. The guy in charge of our entire bundle of precincts told us that if we were short of ballots, we would be in big trouble, but since we were instead long on ballots, we had probably been given a few more than we were supposed to, so he allowed us to sign out and go home, which we all promptly did. I drove home and celebrated the end of a long day by sleeping for eleven hours.
And that, my friends, is the epic tale of my day glued--metaphorically--to a chair. I get to do it all over again in three weeks for the state run-off elections. I will be bringing myself a pillow . . . and some extra snacks. :P