Friday, May 13, 2011

Adventures of a Poll Worker

My wife, Kathie, frequently finds jobs in the newspaper or via the grapevine for me in the forlorn hope that I will begin to bring some income into the family.

She feels this way because I spend most of time whittling, blogging, or fighting crab grass, none of which produces a farthing.

My usual response to one of her suggested positions is to look up and say: “Great! That sounds right up my alley”……and get back to my pathetic activities.

This time she said that several women in her book club were poll workers and that the work was easy, infrequent, and the pay good.

This not only matched my three top employment priorities, but perked my interest as well. I have always been interested in the political process and served as an elected town councilman many years ago. I am also conscientious about voting and always do so, usually with unhappy results.

I went to the county web site and filed my application. “Message Sent” had no sooner appeared on the screen when I received a reply saying I was accepted and should appear for training two days hence. This should have raised my suspicions because my email applications usually wind up in the great round file in the sky never to be heard from again.

I appeared at the county office complex on the appointed day. As I entered, I walked into a swarm of the oldest human beings I have ever seen. I was sure that Meals on Wheels was just getting out or it was enrollment day for the county nursing home.

I asked a gentleman standing next to me if he could direct me to the poll worker training registration. He indicated that it was somewhere in the midst of the swarming wheel chairs and colliding walkers. I asked where the line started and he responded: “There is no damn line. Just look at them.” The old folks were surging around a table scanning sheets of registration documents. “How do you expect me to read this?”, one old gal piped up to no in particular.

“I usually wait for them to move on,” my companion said. I am not sure if he meant into the auditorium or the next plane of existence, either of which could happen at any moment.

I’m old but these folks were OLD, Mr. Riley, Sr. old. A number of years ago, friends of ours had a father and son living next door. Mr. Riley, Jr. was in his sixties and Mr. Riley, Sr. was considerably north of that. The friends’ daughter, who was 5 or 6 at the time, made a reference to one of them and her mother asked which one she meant. “Not old Mr. Riley, Mom, I was talking about almost dead Mr. Riley,” she replied.

I entered the hall and took a seat at the end of a row near a side exit. This is my usual spot at any assembly. I choose it so I can bail in a hurry in case a crazed person comes crashing through the center door with guns blazing. Hey, I didn’t live this long by being stupid.

I was nicely settled when a voice boomed behind me: “I want that seat!” Suddenly, I was transported back to high school and turned expecting to see Anthony Nadjatowski looming over me with fists clenched. Instead, it was a large scowling woman leaning on a walker with a large foam pillow under her arm. Like high school, I vacated in a hurry before I got my ear flicked.

Soon a young-by-comparison older woman came to the lectern and bellowed into the mike: “Can everybody here me?” A chorus of “no’s” echoed across the room. She repeated this several times turning the volume up each time until it was at ear splitting level. Still, the consensus was no. Finally, she gave up and went on anyway.

Here is something I didn’t know: if a blind person wants to vote and asks for assistance, he/she must be accompanied into the booth by both a Democrat and a Republican. He/she can also bring a guide dog. A Democrat, a Republican, a blind person and a dog enter a voting booth…..write your own joke.

At that moment, another large woman with a walker began to stagger down the aisle in search of a seat. We all eyed her carefully fearful that she would either demand our seat or fall on us. She shoved a chair to the end of a table. She also carried a foam cushion, but her’s was the size of a two person life raft. After she got all comfy, she began ripping the pages from her employee’s manual.

Another Board of Elections staffer took the floor and explained how to open and start the voting machine. This seemed beyond the physical abilities of most of my co-workers, but they didn’t seem too concerned as many had dozed off.

The staffer pointed at me and asked if I would come up and play the part of a voter in a simulation. I suppose she thought I was one of the few who could make it to the front of the room in the allotted one hour of training time. As I signed in as myself, the staffer chirped: “Oh, Mr. Andersen is a Democrat!” This the old dears heard and a collective growl rose up. Democrats are few and far between in our county and are hunted with dogs when flushed out.

The trainer said that we would work in teams and stressed the need for mutual assistance and preparation. She asked for questions, but there were none, although I was tempted to ask if each team would be supplied with a defibrillator and body bags.

As I left I thought that if these good folks, despite their physical limitations, are motivated to perform a community service at considerable inconvenience and discomfort to themselves, what is wrong with the rest of us slackers? That’s why they are the Greatest Generation.

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