Sometimes the fatigue and torpor of a 15-hour day seem a bit much to poll workers — the inspectors, clerks and wardens. We carped during the September primary at the low turnout and too little to do and we were flat out this week for the general with triple the voters.
Yet, Tuesday brought its sweet, high-democracy moments. As warden at a Boston precinct, I had the worst duties and got the best rewards. I was the troubleshooter, the fixer.
The irate senior who answered every question at the check-in table with a shout and insult was mine to mollify. The mid-aged lawyer who swore that she had voting at that school for years was mine to locate her real polling place and provide directions. The several who were simply not in the voter book each needed investigation, sometimes among their wallet ID and others in a long call to the elections department for database or paper registration files.
A couple of young men who could have been really nasty about their problems turned out to be the nicest and most reasonable. As a father of three boys, two of voting age, and someone who has more than once railed against poor manners and irrationality here in the Hub of the Universe, I was very pleasantly surprised. These guys worked with me, filled out the necessary paperwork, stated how much they wanted to vote, and then shook my hand and thanked me for helping them.
One want-to-vote guy had moved from Bedford back to Hyde Park. He had changed his drivers-license and updated the city voter census annual form. He figured he was covered. Of course, while those are reasonable assumptions, we don’t link the license and voter databases as many states do. We expect voters to get a reg card online or at various government offices or less commonly at temporary sign-up tables in public places. Filling out a card for even the slightest change is always safest, but even that doesn’t always mean you’ll be the check-in book when you arrive.
For the fellow from Bedford, I called elections to find that the Boston lists did not include him. He was still game when I explained that we could do a provisional ballot, which required him (and me) to fill out several forms. Then it would go to elections at city hall, where they would research it. If they agreed that he was qualified, they’d count his vote.
Doing that required him to fill out the application provisional ballot, show me ID with his current address and mark a ballot on which I had written PROVISIONAL. I filled in the lower half of his form, created a provisional ballot ID and prepared his pink sheet, with information identifying his code number and giving him a phone number at elections to call no sooner than 7 or more than 20 days later to see if his vote counted.
He returned the marked ballot, which I inserted into its own envelope marked with his unique number. He then filled in a voter registration card on the spot. I put his sealed ballot envelope into Envelope B for such research downtown. He got the pink sheet. His reg card and provisional ballot application went into Envelope A, along with the log of all provisional ballots issued that day from that precinct. His choices remained private, with the ballot available for recording if the researchers found that he was qualified. They saw the name and address, but not the ballot itself.
While elaborate, that does uphold the letter and spirit of voting laws, including ballot privacy.
One might think that an 18 or 19 year old could find all this was not worth the trouble. Some older adults have walked away rather than work 15 or more minutes on forms. Of course, several older adults also walked away after learning they needed to drive two or three miles to their proper polling place.
The young men who were voting for the first time were not deterred though. They plugged away, while I stayed close and help explain some of the blanks they had to fill in on this form or that.
Then came the reward. After all they had been through, each stuck out his hand, pumped mine, and thanked me sincerely and vigorously. The only reward we can offer is a small oval I VOTED sticker. They took that with smiles as well.
I’ve been voting for decades and have rarely missed any election, primary, preliminary, special or general, once when I was suddenly sick and once when I got sent out of town on business with no time to get an absentee ballot. I confess that I can still get blasé or at least take it for granted that I’ll be able to vote.
Now having worked elections for years at three different precincts in Boston, I pretty much know the rules and how to avoid problems. I’m quick to fill in the annual voter census, I complete a reg card when I move, and so forth.
I do admire the determination of those caught in the intricacies of registration. Those who arrive ready to be a citizen only to hear they aren’t in the book, were deleted by mistake (one of those in my precinct this year), were never moved from the old ward and precinct to the new one, or the many who are marked *I* (inactive) and having to show one of the few forms of accepted ID, fill out a form, and literally take an oath that they are who they say.
I salute those young men who went through all the clerical work in their disappointment. They wanted to vote, we made it happen, even knowing they were not positive that ballot would count, and to top it off, they thanked me. Good stuff — almost worth a 15-hour day right there.
Tags: harrumph, harrumpher, voting, Boston, bureaucracy, elections, poll workers