free hit counter Snacks, please!: At the polling place

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

At the polling place

4:30 a.m. -- Alarm goes off. I wash my face, brush my teeth, and pack my breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus two tea bags and three Advil into a shoulder bag and walk into the night.

5 a.m. -- What?! There's already voters here?? And, oh dear... the precinct captain left half of our machines in her living room. Quick! Give the oath! Get back in your car! Hm. I am not the youngest poll worker. There's a girl here with funky glasses and green suede shoes. She screams Democrat!! Mr. Robinson is 81 and he just took a class in computers. I like him the best. James also is retired and has a fake Irish accent. I like him okay too.

The captain is back: Quick! She needs six volunteers to set up the machines. I hide. Machines? Really? Probably not my strength. I hang the signs (very competently!!) and try to figure out who is a Republican. The polling place must have at least one. You, church lady in the red sweater and ugly shoes. It's you, I know it.

6 a.m. -- The line is down the block, past the playground, around the corner. My new job, since I did so well with the signs, is making sure people aren't supposed to be voting in the Lutheran Church a half-mile away. "Hello! Have you voted here before? No? Mind if I look you up?" Some people are insulted. "I've voted here for 36 years!" I see some neighbors. They tell me they have a motion-sensor camera in their backyard and they have a fox and a deer! I have a rat, I tell them. What? Did I just say that? I think I did not sleep enough.

I meet the Republican Party rep. He has long hair and a North Face rain jacket. Even with more sleep, I wouldn't have guessed it. Is this what Northern Virginia Republicans look like? There is a whole bunch of people here from "Protect the Vote" and the Civil Rights division of the American Bar Association. I think they are watching me. I might try to intimidate voters! Stop talking about rat, I think to myself.

After a couple of hours, I come back in.

Aw shit. It's 7 a.m.

8 a.m. -- Lucy is having a moon bounce party, I tell the guy from across the street. Y'all want to come? It's a princess moonbounce party. No need to bring a present. The captain is giving me nasty looks. You can work a machine, she tells me. Machine?? Aie.

9 a.m. -- We are not supposed to push the vote button. If somebody walks away from their machine without pushing the last button, we are supposed to tell the chief and throw their vote away. I think this is mean. I resolve to break state law and help stupid people cast their ballots. I am waiting and waiting for somebody stupid!! But everybody figures it out.

10 a.m. -- Coffee cake. Pumpkin bread. James just got back from Ireland. He loves the Aran Islands. So do I! Phil just got back from China and Tibet. Fascinating. Mary is very sweet. But I think she might be a know-it-all. Her husband John -- sourpuss! (Is it him??) Hal works in the theater. He is offended when I say $80 is too much for the Lieutenant of Inishmore, even if it is great. Still, he can't possibly be the Republican. In theater?? Ed is 81. He used to do the lights in the Smithsonian American history museum. Bob was in the Peace Corps in Minnesota? What? No, North Africa. We figure out we went to the same college. He is amused. We didn't have girls when I went there, he says.

11 a.m. -- We are not supposed to look at people's screens while they are voting. But how can you figure out what they're doing wrong if you can't peek? They say, "It's not working! It's blinking!" and you say, "Um...what's wrong?" And they say, "It's not working!" I peek. Oh, it wants you to vote for two school board candidates, I say. And Obama. Oh no, I don't say that! Ha. "Do I want to vote for a new CRA?" one lady asks. "Well..." I say. (No!!) "If you're not sure, maybe you should just skip it."

noon -- Oh my God. I have been here seven hours.

1 p.m. -- I resolve not to take my three Advil until 5, at least.

2 p.m. -- Where are the voters?? I have a rat in my front yard, I tell somebody. Where exactly do you live, they ask.

3 p.m. -- There are quite a few first-time voters. We cheer for all of them. One lady comes to the polling place straight from her neurosurgeon's office. Something is wrong with her spine and Ed takes her arm, helping her to a voting machine. Another guy shows up and he has the hospital nursery bracelet around his wrist. He just had a baby, I whisper to James. An old man comes in. That poor guy has scoliosis, says Ed. He is bent practically in half and has to raise his head to meet our eyes. And we are sitting down.

4 p.m. -- Oatmeal cookies.

5 p.m. -- I would like the Advil, but I think I should wait. We think there's going to be a post-work rush, but who? This precinct has 2,400 voters -- 700 voted absentee, 700 voted before 8 a.m., and the day has been steady...

6 p.m. -- People come in, shocked that there's no line. One couple says they hired a babysitter for two hours so they could leave their kids at home. Go out to dinner, we say. One more hour!

7 p.m. -- Polls close!! We had nearly 90 percent turnout! The doors are locked. I am trapped inside with 16 old people, one girl in green suede shoes who takes out a book in Latin, and three poll-watchers. James tells me one is a Republican. The guys in the suit. Really? He looks so nice. But he is wearing a suit. I think the Italian kid in the sweaty golf shirt must be some kind of liberal. The old people get to work on tabulation. I am asked to take down the signs.

8 p.m. -- The old people are still tabulating the machines.

9 p.m. -- The old people are still tabulating the machines.

10 p.m. -- The old people are still tabulating the machines. Meanwhile, results are coming in on the suit's iPhone. Virginia is 50-50! Wait until they get our precinct, says James. They're going to call California before they call Arlington, I snip.

The gloves are off. James says that this part of the county is so Democratic because we are so well-educated. The guy in the suit says he's not a Republican, he's an Independent. But the Italian kid in the sweaty golf shirt is a Republican! I would never have figured that. Staten Island, I muse. I want James to straighten him out. Donna says she works for a labor union. But it's just a job. Goddamnit, she is the Republican! The guy in the suit shares more results. Green suede shoes stifles a shriek. You need to try, I whisper. Game face, she whispers back. At least until the sweaty Republican leaves.

10:30 p.m. -- We're done! James drives me home. He lives just one block away and says I must join the neighborhood's coffee club. He says my yard looks much better. I bite my tongue. At home, David is studying the NYTimes map. Virginia is blue! Virginia is blue! And they don't even have Arlington's results!!

Now I can rest.


Blogger What A Card said...

What a day, what a day! Way to go above and beyond on the "civic duty" front :)

November 5, 2008 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger Pamela said...

Who knew doing someone's duty could be the basis of their first novel.

So what new social opportunities will be available as part of the connections made? Who knew there was a secret neighborhood coffee club!

November 6, 2008 at 7:26 PM  
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