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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Essay

Diary of an Election Poll Worker

September 23, 2000|KEITH TAYLOR | Keith Taylor lives in Chula Vista

The polls were closed last March and the garage was a little warmer now that the door was shut. We'd been buffeted by cold winds since 6 a.m. It was now nearly 9:30 p.m. and three of us with a combined age of 210 years were struggling to finish before the deadline. We were counting ballots of seven different colors plus voters' signatures.

Everything had to jibe. Then the ballots and signatures, along with voting machines, booths, signs, instruction books, and miscellaneous stuff--all weighing about 100 pounds--had to be rushed to the pickup point.

So the three of us who'd had a few minutes off for lunch and whose supper--pizza--was coagulating on the shelf behind us persevered through the day that just wouldn't end. The final voter beat the closing of the garage door with 20 seconds to spare, then spent 20 minutes studying candidates, propositions and bond issues as if she'd never heard of any of them before. We waited to tear down her voting booth and get on with our task.

When the final voter left, we were able to continue wrapping up the first election of 2000.

Why do folks put up with a day's worth of discomfort for a perfunctory compliment from "a grateful state" and a stipend worth less than half the minimum wage? Well, many don't.

San Diego County was short 500 people to staff voting places.

Nor were the voters well-served. Many had problems with a keycard little changed since 1890, when it was invented. California is entering the millennium saving dollars by using 19th century technology. Surely, the largest and richest state in the union can afford better.

And what's with this garage business anyhow? We were a mere stone's throw away from a public school. It's a lot better to sit in a building with doors and windows that close than to shiver for 15 straight hours.

Furthermore, kids would have an opportunity to see the voting process up close. Many teachers bring them around. Every poll worker I know is glad to explain just what is happening. That's a civics lesson wasted in a garage.

Why can't we eliminate the nonsense? Maybe we could even streamline the system enough to pay workers more than a fraction of what a neophyte at Jack in the Box gets.

Soon, I'll be getting a call to work this November's election. After 15 consecutive elections, I'm going to say no. I'll change my mind when California agrees to use 21th century technology, takes the voting process seriously and gives me a warm place to sit.

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