Monday, April 5, 2010

Primary 2010

214 Republican, 39 Democrats. That was the final count on Primary Election Day last month. A pretty typical voter turnout in Small Town, Texas.

I worked my first election in Harris County, Texas back in 1992, when my Man and I were approached by a fellow homeschool mom who I later found out served, with her husband, as the county chairman. We did not know, when we both agreed to do our Civic Duty, that it was actually a paying job. Not a big paying job, but still. When one is unemployed, as my Man was at the time, any pay is more than no pay. Since then I have worked at elections of all sorts ~ city elections, special elections, runoff elections, primary elections, presidential elections, off-year elections, school board elections, you-name-the elections ~ both as a clerk and as a judge.

Whatever one’s capacity, Election Day is one l-o-n-g day, beginning long before dawn and ending long after dark. Some elections, such as the Presidential election, are much more popular than others, but whichever it is, and no matter how un/popular it may be, you can just rest assured that somebody is going to be there well before opening time to whine about something:

  • The door wasn’t unlocked until three seconds after 7:00a.m;
  • The yellow sheet wasn’t posted;
  • The VOTE sign is sagging at the corner;
  • The distance markers aren’t exactly at 100 feet;
  • This voter didn’t get a card in the mail;
  • That voter’s mother is on oxygen and can’t make it to the poll, so she is being disenfranchised;
  • The other voter wasn’t told who was on the ballot;
  • The next voter doesn’t speak English, and an Urdu interpreter hasn’t been provided.
What doesn’t really matter; the object is to complain. Loudly and bitterly, making sure everyone in the vicinity is privy to the voter’s pain and suffering. And since, in the age of PC-ness, we are in the business of appeasement, well, we better be good and ready to fix up every little one of their little hearts’ desires. And that’s the way most elections go.

You might think all elections are equally easy/hard to hold, but you would be wrong. City and school board elections are usually easy ones, because only the most dutiful and informed citizenry are even aware of those. Presidential elections, on the other hand, tend to be somewhat hazardous, particularly when there is a hotly contested or polarizing competition. Voters who have never seen the inside of a polling place come out for those, and they all have “issues.“

If I had to choose the hardest/worst election to work, it would be, no contest, the Primary. That’s because that is the election where the most uninformed show up. All they know for sure is that they have rights: the right to vote, the right to have a ballot in their language, the right not to have to wait in line, things like that. Conspicuously missing is their duty to educate themselves, and they are often ignorant as to what is at stake and/or how the system works. This results in a whole lot of clueless voters, who, when asked if they wish to vote Republican or Democrat, lose not a moment unleashing a torrent of abuse and foul language on the poor miscreant who dares to inquire.

“WHAT do you mean??? You can‘t ask me THAT!!! How DARE you infringe on my right to privacy! That is NONE of YOUR BUSINESS!!! I have the right to a secret ballot!!! Where’s the complaint number??? I’m going to report you!!!” Etc.

Well, Primary Election Day, 2010 wasn’t any different. We had the usual assortment of righteously indignant voters who threatened not to vote if we made them divulge their party affiliation, but only one or two actually made good on their promise. And then there were those in the wrong precinct who heaped outrage upon us for trying to direct them to the right one. There were the requisite two or three illiterates who had to have the ballot read to them, and don’t forget the few who found it too difficult to get out of the car and had to have a ballot taken to them outside. Add to that two election workers who nearly came to blows. Nothing really out of the ordinary. Until…

Enter the voting Nazi (Am I allowed to use that word without being offensive to somebody?). In all my years of working elections, this lady was a first. My first thought was how much she reminded me of one of my children’s piano teachers. But I was quickly disabused of that notion.

She wore a pencil-skirted business suit and stiletto heels, and hair pulled severely back into a braid that was clipped onto the top of her head. In her left hand she carried a wallet/planner/something-or-other, and with her right hand she shook hands with everyone in the room, showing off her badge as she introduced herself. She made sure we alllll knew she was a special officer from Fort Hood who did background investigations for top secret clearances (Hmmm….Is that really something you go around advertising?).

“Rep or Dem?” we asked.

“I’ll take Dem,” she crisply informed us. “I’m not going to vote like everyone else.” And away she clicked across the freshly polished faux-wood floor to the corner of the room where the *e* voting machine was set up.

But almost immediately she was back. And she was frantic. There was only one person she specifically wanted to vote for. He had told her she could vote for him! But he wasn’t on the Dem ballot! And that’s when she bothered to look at the Rep ballot (which was prominently displayed on the wall next to the door, but which neither she, nor anybody else, had ever bothered to look at). Lo and behold, there was her man, and oh-so-fortunately, she had not yet hit the *enter* button on her ballot, so we were able to cancel her Dem ballot and give her a Rep one. That was our one-and-only canceled ballot of the day.

Off she scurried again with her ballot, presumably the right one this time, and she soon came back to our table, once again securely in possession of all her self-confident persona, for another round of smiles, head-bowing, hand-shaking, and “thank you’s” to each of us for doing our civic duty.

So in case you’ve ever put any faith in our “Democratic Process” or in our duly elected leaders, or in those who elect them for that matter, you may want to reconsider. Sometimes I think we would do just as well with a roll of the dice…a crap shoot, so to speak.

Happy Voting!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Census, Anyone?

People are funny. If you don’t believe me, try taking census. I did. Twenty years ago. In Houston, Texas of all places! I must have been out of my mind.

My first assignment was “non-response follow-up.” That meant going door-to-door to all the houses that had not returned a census form. Well, at least according to the Census Bureau's record. More than one of my “clients” claimed they had already sent in the form, and they weren’t all that pleased about now being interviewed in person, particularly when they had originally been sent the 6-question short form and were now being asked to fill out the 12-page long form. Can’t say that I blame them…

Talk about intrusive… How is the number of bathrooms in your house any of the government’s business? Or how much you paid for your house? Or what time you leave your house to go to work in the morning? Or whether you go to work in the afternoon? Yep. Definitely intrusive.

That distasteful aspect of the job aside, there was a sort of fun and fascinating side to it : going all over Houston to all sorts of neighborhoods and places I would never ordinarily go, and meeting all sorts of people that I would never meet on my regular daily rounds.

I’m pretty sure I would not tackle that job today; as I say, I was probably out of my mind. If not, I was at least Na├»ve, with a capital N. The country girl come to town.

Some of the people I met:

  • A 35-year-old grandmother of five babies, all under the age of 3, all children of her 18-year-old daughter who was then pregnant with her 6th child (This, I learned, is possible, if you have four pregnancies, each 11 months apart, one of which results in twins, and, of course, you have to start early.). As Grandma lamented bitterly that the judge kept taking the babies away from the daughter and giving the custody to her, the bedroom door opened, and who should emerge but the pregnant daughter and her boyfriend. “MOM!” I wanted to say. “Get a clue!!!!”
  • And then there was the guy on the bayou. A house on a bayou is no novelty in Houston. In fact, my own backyard ended at a bayou. But this guy was a wee bit different. His back yard was full of five alligators and 13 raccoons, and I left with an invitation to bring my children over to see them. Anytime.
  • One address that had failed to respond turned out to be not a house, but a bar, where several of the midday patrons offered to buy me a drink. They didn’t really accept “no” for an answer, until the kindly bartender pointed out that I was “on duty.” He did, however, invite me to come back when I was no longer on the clock.
  • Some people were just plain nice. They invited me to come in and have a glass of lemonade, and you know what? Sometimes I did. We were trained/cautioned/instructed NOT to go inside any houses, but, well, sometimes the heat and the humidity joined together to persuade me, and I must say, I was never sorry.
  • Maybe the strangest place I went was the mannequin factory. As far as I could tell, it was just another old house in another old neighborhood. I knocked on the screen door, and in response to “Come in,” I did. And got the shock of my life. There was not a soul in the room. What there was in the room was a whole slew of body parts. Some hanging from the ceiling, others on the floor, yet others on a table. The sound of the voice calling to come through to the next room kindof jolted me back to, uh, reality, and I started to notice that these were parts of mannequins. Well, as I say, I must have been out of my mind, because I went on through. To another shock: Sitting in the next room on a stool, painting a mannequin head was…Santa Claus. I swear. He was sitting there, just like in the movies. Red pants. White t-shirt. Wire-rimmed glasses. Long white hair. Flowing white beard. As I looked around I could see into some of the other rooms, and they, too, were full of body parts. Santa explained that this old once-upon-a-time house had been changed into a mannequin factory, one of only a handful in the country, and he was it. He sanded and painted and whatever else it is one does to dummies and shipped them off to various clients all over the country. So he said. In hindsight, I think it might have been a toy factory in disguise.
  • Another strange thing I encountered from time to time was a respondent who did not know who lived in the house. They were usually ok with their own name and maybe another one or two, but before it was over they would be yelling across the room: “Honey! Who else lives here?“ “Does Becky’s boyfriend stay here?“ “What about that guy that always wears a polo shirt?“ “Do any of them work?“
  • More than once I encountered a less-than-friendly dog, but only once was I threatened with one, unlike another member of my team who complained that it must be mandatory to have a junkyard dog in Houston.
  • Another time, while climbing the stairs to a garage apartment, I was met with a shower of dust and debris from above. I looked up through the cloud and discovered Magilla Gorilla sweeping off the landing.

I think the very best benefit of the job was that here I met SE. She happened to be driving out of the park one day as I was driving in to meet my team leader. I really didn’t notice her until she whipped around, got out of the car, and came towards me. She had seen my bumper sticker and wanted to ask me about it. It was love at first sight, and she remains one of my dearest friends still, 20 years later.

So now it is Census Day again. April 1st, 2010. Hmmm...Isn't that April Fool's Day? I can't help wondering about the significance of that. In another bizarre moment of madness, I applied for a job, which entailed taking a bonehead test and filling out some papers. I heard I did very well on the test, and if the number of follow up phone calls is any indication, I believe it. Someone or other calls from the census bureau just about daily to offer me a job, but somewhere between the test and the phone call, sanity kicked in, and so far I have declined every offer.

It’s a decent-paying job by any standard, especially so in the current economy. But…I am older and wiser now, and I fear I may get the task of going to any of several Edgar-Allen-Poe houses that I have seen around town. What if I run into Magilla or Santa again? What if they invite me in again? Twenty years down the road I have lost a lot of my innocence, and things just don’t seem as benevolent as they once did.

2010...it’s a different world. No, thank you.