Faint rustling of papers, coupled with an occasional phone call means (ta da), yes, we’ll have a Presidential primary in the Bay State. In 42 days, we get to play too. Tuesday, March 6th is the commonwealth’s go.
I got a call today to confirm my availability. I’ll be warden at precinct 19 ward 12 again, the Woodbourne Apartments at the bottom of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
Because the field should be pretty well decided by then, we don’t have the drama of the early states, not even the quasi-plebiscite of Iowa’s GOP caucus. Yet, knowing we’re finally closing in on action is like being in a long stalled car that is at least trying to turn over.
I’ve been lucky to fill in my political dance card a bit. We have two announced candidates for Mayor in 2013. I’ve been having a good time with one of them, who actually has started his campaign. He may not be at all premature on this, if our longest-serving ever Mayor, Tom Menino, decides to give it a go for a sixth four-year term.
Otherwise, we have some time before the biggies here. Among those will be the seminal battle for a U.S. Senate seat. Party candidates have until June 5th to make their final filings for that, and non-party ones until August 28th. Both have to turn in the initial papers four weeks earlier. The state primary is September 6th. Of course, the MA and U.S. election is November 6th.
In other words, if we didn’t have a March Presidential-primary vote, it would seem a devil of a long time to have been sitting still.
We poll lackeys can be pretty sure of very different elections, March, September and November. They should run the spectrum from boredom to death march.
From previous elections when few showed, we would fret and exercise our well-honed blades of self-righteousness. Voting is a fundamental duty, privilege and function of democracy. How could only 11% or 14% or whatever vote? Harrumph, as the expression goes.
We make sure to have reading material. We tell voters to send their neighbors. We constantly keep running tallies per page to make end-of-night verification easier. We make sure the inspectors and clerk get plenty of breaks. We look for the possible coffee or sandwich delivery from some campaign. We pick at voters who break the rules by displaying campaign literature inside.
On the other hand, a huge turnout, as we had with the 2008 Obama/McCain election, we’re flat out. The first-time, recently moved, and befuddled voters come like phalanxes of attacking soldiers.
- Some are absolutely positive they have always voted there, until the warden or clerk checks their address and personal information with Elections to find that they’ve always voted two miles away.
- Some did not send in the annual voter form mailed and then checked by phone or personal visit. So they are marked *I* for inactive and require showing ID and filling out several forms.
- Occasionally, someone has mistakenly been marked as deceased. That also requires ID, a call to Elections and more forms.
- Commonly someone moved one, two or even five years before, had not voted since, and never notified Elections of the new address. That’s another big deal of calls, ID, forms, and the dreaded Provisional Ballot. That goes into the Clerk’s Book, all the paperwork gets its own envelope, and Elections hand-checks the documents that night to see whether the vote will count.
To their credit, most voters really want their ballot to count once they’ve made it to the poll. They’ll fill out the form, produce identification, and sit the extra two minutes on top to fill out a new voter-registration card to make sure they’ll be right in the computer the next time. First-timers, typically students, seem grateful that someone explains the process and helps them fill out the right forms to get in the system.
Sometimes though, middle-aged sorts are indignant that all-powerful, all-knowing city hall did not magically move their address or understand that even if they didn’t return the annual questionnaire that they would certainly vote in the next election. That too can have bits of humor, as when a woman began to scream that she knew for certain that she had filled in the annual form and returned it. Her honorable and brave son was with her and to his credit he admitted that she had indeed filled it out, but he decided it was too much trouble to mail it. She never apologized to me, but her look to him could have stripped paint from the door. That was not the first time he’d seen that gaze and he winked at me and smiled as they left.
We arrive on election days at 6 AM and take a full hour to set up the tables, signs, voting machine and on and on for the 7 AM. Polls close at 8 PM, but we’re not done. We have to reconcile the voter lists at the check-in and check-out tables, as well as match the machine counts exactly. That involves:
- Pre-counts (done by hand) of all ballots that arrive
- Counting all absentee ballots that arrive with the police officer as well as throughout the day, feeding those into the scanner after checking them in and out
- Accounting for all spoiled ballots and provisional ones
- Recounting all unused ballots
- Clearing the voting machine (throughout the day if it clogs) of ballots
- Checking ballots for write-in votes and recording each (even for Mickey Mouse) in the clerk’s book
- Entering columns of votes (by party for primaries) for each office, candidate, ballot question, and tallying each until they come out perfectly
We are not allowed a single mistake or seemingly missing ballot. What we got over the day had to be exactly what goes back to Elections. There’s the extra fun of Elections giving us packets of ballots in 50 or 200, depending on the election, and a single one for the general or two to four sets for primaries. Down at city hall, they weigh them, which means packets can vary by four ballots and that inspector’s hand counts morning and night have to be perfect and recorded accurately. A single error can mean that 8 PM becomes 8:30 or 9 or later until counts are perfect.
There’s the removal of all signs and other materials, returning all materials into the proper one of two big boxes, plus the magic blue bag that the police officer carries separately when he or she checks in at city hall.
Maybe it’s like a circus. Someone has to set up the big tent, there are the various workers and performers, and someone has to clean up after the elephants as well as strike the tent.
Come 6 PM to 9 PM on September 6th, I’ll likely be cranky and wonder why I keep doing this. Till then though, I can’t wait.