I am exhausted. There's nothing on my agenda today except sleep and relax.
I've spent the past week, and most especially the past three days, preparing myself for a position as an election official for the Harris County primaries. There was a two-hour training session in Election Law, and an online training session in how to process voters, set up the polling place, and assist voters with language issues, physical disabilities and close down the polls. There was a trip to pick up the voting lists on Saturday, and a lengthy session preparing the voting lists and familiarizing ourselves with the various forms that would be used. There were also a couple of hours spent ensuring that we had a Vietnamese speaking clerk. My husband and myself both speak Spanish and English, so that was covered. There was also a visit to the polling place On Friday to meet the people who would let us in and see where the polling would take place, set up the voting machines (minus the computerized tallying devices), and locate restrooms and water fountains and such.
Yesterday, I arrived at the polling place as the sun streaked the eastern sky with magenta, just about 6 am. We put up signs, rearranged the tables and chairs we had already arranged once , set up the tallying computers, connecting them to the voting booths, tested the system, and organized and laid out all the papers and forms we would need to process voters, At 7 pm, the polls opened and our first voter arrived. Our polling location served three precincts for the Democratic Primary. We were available for voters until 7 pm, at which time we locked the doors, closed out the machines, broke them down and packed them up, made sure we had the forms organized to turn in, and cleaned up the area in the school library where we and our voters had been, and took down all the signs. My husband & I then delivered the electronic vote tally machines and all the forms to the Reliant Arena, where we were checked out as cleared at 9:20 pm. Long day, during which we processed 32 voters in our three precincts, and helped another dozed or so find the right place for them to vote: Republicans who had wandered into the Democratic Primary by mistake, people who wanted to vote Democratic but were in the wrong polling place for their precinct, and one first time voter who was in the right place but whose voting certificate was not yet valid. There was one particularly rude Republican woman who made some sniping comment about "I'm not a Democrat. I believe in working for a living, which I have done for 40 years." Of course the first thing I had asked her was if she were here to vote in the Democratic primary and she had said "Yes." It was only when my husband who was checking her in asked if she minded if her registration card was stamped for the Democratic party (as we had been instructed to ask), that she railed up and declared herself to be a Republican "certainly not a Democrat":and made her snipe. We simply smiled and told her where the Republican primary for her precinct was being held. " I did have to wonder why she had said "yes" to my question about being there to vote in the Democratic primary with that attitude. Perhaps she simply wasn't listening, or perhaps she just wanted to snipe at us. I'll never know, but she was a most unpleasant woman! PS we were instructed to ask them if they minded their card being stamped, but that it was perfectly ok to allow them to vote if they said no.
We had a couple of Democratic voters come through who had gone to the usual polling place for elections only to find out it was the Republican primary being held there, and who commented that they were not told where they needed to be. Now I know those folks had the same list of polling places for both primaries that we had, so I have to wonder what instructions they had been given for helping Democrats find the correct place to vote. One voter told us she had been directed to "the elementary school" on the right street, only there were two elementary schools on that street about two miles apart, and she had gone to the other one first.
We also got to meet some of the children who attended the school, many of whom had no idea what we were doing there in their library. We explained to them about voting, told them what the machines did and how they worked (look but don't touch), and watched as their eyes shone with learning something new. I was rather astounded that their parents hadn't taught them anything about voting.
I got to use my Spanish with one or two voters, and no Vietnamese voters came through the lines. However, the clerk did give me a few lessons in basic Vietnamese for elections. I can now say "Republican party," "Democratic party," and "registration card" in what she assured me was passable Vietnamese. She's a delightful young woman with, like me, and undergraduate in sociology, about to head off to Boston in the fall for a graduate program in public policy, specifically health care policy..
I did not do an exact count of the number of people who had early voted, but a quick flip through the books convinced me that of the 1000s of registered voters in those precincts perhaps around 250 had early voted. Of course, some of those still shown as not having voted were probably voting in the Republican primary. My sense, while watching the election results on the 10 PM news, was that voting turnout for both primaries was a tiny fraction of the registered voters in Harris County, and turnouts for Republican primaries was much higher than for the Democratic one.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that we were paid for the hours we put in on election day (up to a limit of 14 hours, when we put in nearly 15.5 hours) at $8 an hour. That meant the county paid the three people at our polling place about $10 per voter. We were not paid for the hours put into training, picking up supplies, preparing materials, arranging the voting place, and setting up the voting booth machines. Nor did we receive any mileage for these activities, nor for the return of the machines and forms. I'm not complaining, just delineating what the compensation terms are.
If I have one complaint to make it is that so many registered voters do not show up for primaries, do not educate themselves on the candidates and therefore don't vote in all the races which have more than one candidate, or believe the sound bytes in ads without checking out the facts. One race here involved two candidates for a judge position (we shall omit my feelings about elected judges here), One of the candidates is an ethical, honest judge. The other was bankrolled entirely by a local attorney whom that ethical incumbent judge had ruled against in a recent court case. This second candidate had received very poor ratings by peer reviews from attorneys and judges. I had a little insider information on this case, as my brother was an attorney for the "winning side" in that court case, and was incensed that this other attorney would sabotage a competent, objective, ethical judge this way. His objection was not so much to the character of the opposing candidate, as to "get even" attitude of the attorney bankrolling her. The incumbent, as of the last reports I saw before crashing last night, was losing.
Politics is messy. I'm not sure why we should embrace petty behaviors, forego the privilege and responsibility of voting, nor act uncivilly to each other. There's winning an election, and there's winning the nastiness race. Personally, I'd rather lose with honor. Of course the downside of that is having a bunch of petty actors in our government. It's our own damned fault is we don't participate in the process. You can vote (I did), you can serve as a poll worker and vow to be gracious, you can work in a campaign and vow to be ethical, and above all, you can care enough to educate yourself and vote for person who will best fulfill the office the way you think it should be fulfilled rather than vote on the basis of political party, racial identity,emotionally based causes, what your religious leader tells you, or what is popular with the neighbors or your boss.. I plan to put up a yard sign in the fall. It will say simply "HAVE YOU VOTED YET?"" I'm thinking about putting one up soon that says "HAVE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?"and leaving it up until the fall early voting starts. Non-partisan, participatory democracy. Think about it. If you don't participate, who knows what