Tuesday, November 04, 2008

BabyBlue's Post-Vote Report: A Journey to Oz

What has happened to my polling place? The lines were not as long as I have seen them in the past, but inside the polling place was a zoo. It was stuffed with Polling Officials, Poll Watchers, Poll Helpers, Poll Lawyers, and Poll Standbys who's job seemed to be well, to stand by. When I asked one lady with a clipboard who she was with she said, "I am attorney," as if that was all I needed to know. I wanted to ask her if she had caught the ambulance yet.

The Other Party was out in full force, working the line (exactly 40 feet away from the polling place door so I was told) with their mock ballots (helpfully pre-checked with their candidates) and telling line dwellers to use the paper ballots because they are quicker, "that's what I'm told," they repeated. Never found out who told them, probably Ms Clipboard.

It seems that everyone's last name falls between A-D in the alphabet. It was that line that snaked its way through the parking lot, while everything that came after E was express-checkout. If Bob Dylan had been in line this morning, he would have been majorly bummed.

I stood in line with my latest biography on Jack Kerouac. There's something surreal about reading about old Jack while standing in line to vote, especially with the Other Party and their lawyers hanging about the doors and pointing your way through. Very helpful, those folks from the Other Party. Jack was Republican, you know.

When I grew closer to the table to check in, there was an Other Party Poll Watcher sitting behind the Poll Official with his own clipboard and thick list of what I presumed were registered voters' names. The official would yell out a voter's name so it could be heard clear to Buckingham County and the Other Party Poll Watcher would squint and look up the name and check it off his clipboard. A voter who was all ready at the table was complaining rather robustly about the Other Party Poll Watcher. I'd never seen one of those like that, looking over the should of the Poll Official, watching his every move.

Where was My Party anyway?

Then it was my turn. I handed the Poll Official my drivers license but he appeared not to be able to read. I looked down at the voter list and pointed to my name which was clear on my drivers license. "What is your name and address?" the Poll Official asked. I told him, keeping my voice low. The Other Party Poll Watcher seemed to be watching something else. The Poll Official handed me back my drivers license then proceed to shout my name all the way to Buckingham County as well. The Other Party Poll Watcher got out his pen.

"Do you have to shout my name?" I asked, rather irritated. I'd never seen such a thing. Voting in Fairfax County had always been a quiet affair, almost reverent, like entering into a democratic holy of holies. But as I looked around the room it was anything but reverent, more like an ant hill that just got kicked. The Poll Official looked at me blankly. Apparently that was not on his list of prepared responses and I bit my lip and took the paper he handed me and walked over to the next table where the next Poll Official asked me, "paper or machine?" Thinking about hanging chads, I said "machine," despite what the Other Party had been yelling to us outside in line. He took my form and gave me a card and pointed to a lady in red and told me to get behind her.

Then a large crowd of people who got in line before I could reach the Lady in Red. There was a woman, a man, and several children and one card. They all went up to machine. I turned to the next Poll Official and asked, "how many people can vote off one card?"

"Just one," the Poll Official replied.

I had wondered if there was a family rate, but the woman was just receiving "assistance" in voting. Hadn't seen that before either. I looked around the room, still filled with Poll Watchers and Poll Officials and Poll Helpers and Poll Standbys and Ms Clipboard and wondered if this is what Oz felt like after a Tornado.

Or maybe today it feels just like Florida and Ohio.


Kevin said...

It was surreal at my polling place as well. It's 1000' from my work, so at 6:10 with a huge line, I decided to head to my job. At 10 only my line was long then a 11:30 it was a 20 minute wait (I made the mistake when I first moved here of going after work to a Presidential election, never again! {I took off work early for Y2K, the last two I've been in this sweet spot - no one ever shows up for the "city dog catcher" off years - except me}).

We could have used your Ms Clipboard in my place. Overall it was solid, but there were tons of minor infractions (there was a unmanned tent with literature, in a logical placement at a bend in the side walk, but about 30-35' from the door). It pretty bad with all the voter guides, but there was a way around them, which I did. The huge sign for a guy running for city council was moved since the morning off the school property to along the road.

The lady taking names was the one who angered me. She teased that my name my not have been on the books, I informed her that this was where I voted last year to which she teased that I could have been purged. I did inform her that I was an assistant precinct chief in another county and the law is after four years and she did find my name. I've been an election official for a presidential, so I understand the stress relief, but wholly inappropriate.

Then I was an election official in Marshall precinct in Arlington, where they got themselves in trouble years before asking people to sign the poll book instead of writing the name and Mrs. Rehnquist informed the local board of elections that was a literacy test, thus against the law. So this ladies performance would NOT be tolerated.

I hope a few will venture in a non-presidential, because this was not a great voting experience, I think I need those off years to erase the memory of the presidential ones.

Dr. Bob said...

Baby Blue;
Your experience and Kevin's sound terrible. Just to let you know that it is not that way everywhere in VA, My wife and I got to our polling olace here in "Southside" and were able to go right in. No line, no "Ms clipboard" that I could see. The whole process took us 5 mins in and out. Very nice!

Andy said...

I showed up at my polling place in Stafford at 0705 only to see the line snaking out the door and around the sidewalk. There were perhaps 100+ folk outside and dozens more inside.

Out of the blue, an official called for "Q to Z" and we scuttled to the front. This cut our time down to @20 minutes or so.

I voted absentee during my 20 years in the air force and only actually used a polling place since 2000. I've never seen a turnout the likes of today. Hopefully, they were all members of the Sarah fan club. :-)


Anonymous said...

We were at our polling place at 5:50 am to get in at 6:00 and the line was already long. When we finally got inside--same as BB, the A-H line was the length of the gym, the J-P line had about 10 people, and the Q-Z line had zero!! We were, of course, in the LONG line. Then we had only three machines (one wasn't working this morning, the clipboard lady told us). But to watch people who had been way behind us in the main line go ahead of us and get out sooner because their name was at the end of the alphabet(our entire process took 90 minutes) was frustrating.

Keith Bramlett said...

My last 15 years of voting has been absentee (now called mail in) and I can see that for the price of a stamp I can avoid the most unappealing aspects of this civic duty.

Grey Beard said...

I asked for a paper ballot to try that method out since as I understand it that is the way we are going to have to vote in the future. I prefer the machines. If you make a mark on the ballet with that pencil there is no way to correct it. With the machine they give you a chance to review your ballot and correct it before you cast it. Then you have to carry it to the voting officer to put it in the optical scanner and that feel to me like my vote was exposed to people to look at how I voted. Also, I heard on the radio that there was a problem with the paper ballot with them getting wet and would not go through the optical reader because people got wet in the rain and transferred the wetness to the ballot. I hope that rethink moving from the machines to the paper ballot.