I've just dragged myself home after fifteen hours at the polls, where every two years I do my duty for my voting district, effusing patriotic pride, dedication to my community, and generally being helpful swatting the flies that come in everytime the door opens.
Get up off the floor and stop laughing!
I realize those of you who know me and the way I prattle on about so many insignificant subjects find it difficult at best to picture me being civic minded. Even more, you find it difficult to imagine anyone with any sense appointing me as an election judge. They must have had a late night before that fateful day. Possible candidates numbers one through 99 must have spoken in the negative when asked to serve.
Really...stop chuckling in disbelief, you'll give me a complex.
But judge I do, womanning my post and being there with cheery smile and voter information to assist you in your patriotic duty as you come to cast your ballots and choose the leaders of our country. It's some work, a lot to know, and a very long day, but I enjoy it, I think we all do. People and their politics are funny creatures. While both the electioneering guidelines and the rules of protocol assigned to a judge prohibit me from joining in the conversation, it's amusing to hear and great entertainment.
This year our county advanced backwards to the new voting system. Gone are the curtained voting booths looking for all the world like something from the Wizard of Oz. "Who is that man behind the curtain??" "Oh...it's just old man Ken". "Is he okay...he's been in there a while?" "He's probably looking for the hot and cold faucets".
The 'nineties' voting machine looks for all the world like a suitcase laid on top of a dumpster. It gives whole new meaning to the phrase 'tossing my vote away'. When one thinks of going to the computer age with the voting system one would expect to be greeted with all manner of lights and processors and confusing buttons from which to choose. Instead they stand in front of something eerily resembling a large rug shampooer.
But first, the ballot itself. A nondescript card of paper enscribed with all the names of those aspiring to greatness for either themselves or their 'people'. Back to the days when voting was done by hand, back to the days when you wrote on your ballot. Simply connect the head and tail of the arrow. With a special pen. On a specially designed rickety fold up table that seemed to somehow attract the tallest voters to the shortest tables, and vice versa.
People love to grumble so there was a fair amount of such muttering about having to take pen to paper instead of pushing levers. Of course when they were pushing levers they were reminiscing about the good old days when you voted by hand.
Don't have to, the machine will do it for me now.
Simply feed the ballot into the machine and your vote counts. Don't worry when you hear the distinct 'clunk' as your cardboard opinion hits the bottom of the plastic bin below the slot that grabbed your votes. I know it seemed like nothing happened, I know you missed the satisfied sound of the curtain sliding open when your votes registered in the old booth, signaling to you that the machine recognized your presence. I realize the little 'beep' felt wimpy, I know you don't completely trust new contraptions. But, honestly, the machine tallied your count.
Well...it would have, but it seemed the company from some other state that sold, therefore took our tax dollars away from Maryland, and set up these machines to our county managed to set the time for 12 hours earlier. The machine is so smart that it knows not to take votes til 7AM on election day. The programmers just live in another world. It was telling us that it was still 7PM the day before. So after an hour of dropping them in manually, we were instructed to override the machine's time and go for it...feed the manual ones in at the closing of the polls.
So, not only did we ask you to trust us when presented with a new system, we asked you to trust us when we told you it wasn't working. Thank you for doing so. It made life a lot easier on all of us that day.
Primaries are generally lighter than the generals and in light of there being few hotly contested races, it was surprisingly better attended than we'd expected. Still, we felt the pressure of the people staying away in droves. Voter apathy ran rampant as always. Likely there were those who came simply interested more in the 'new' procedures, a dry run for the biggie in November. As well, voting is a social event, a duty, and having cast your opinions on paper, grants you license to cast your opinions to anyone who'll listen on the street.
What, may you ask, do six election judges do for 15 hours when only 30% of the voters turn out, when we only had to handle 11.8 people per hour.
Between the half dozen of us we had three dozen kinds of snacks. Our friends and family members stopped by and made food runs to local eateries as our desires for something different reached epic proportions. The more food that arrived, the more flies that had to be swatted, other than our stretches reaching for more food, that was our only exercise. Maybe in the fall, I'll bring my treadmill with me. I can see it now..."So you get on here and push 'distance' to vote for republicans?"..."No no...the voting machine is over there!"
Closing the polls was down to a science...the old way. Calling off the votes, tallying them, calling them in, packing up and going home was a matter of a quarter hour. Now, waiting for the new machine to tally and spit, packing up the additional paperwork, waiting for the machines to tally again and spit, packing up the fold up tables, waiting for the machines to tally again and spit, packing up the computer module added an extra thirty minutes to the day.
Advancing backwards to the future.
See you November third. Please...bring dessert.
This article was published in the Shore Journal on September 20, 1998