Working the Poll - A True Election Day Frontline Story

As a person who is somewhat beholden to the political system for my livelihood, my work on election days differs from most.  I don't get paid as an election judge and I don't get paid to service election equipment. I'm not stopping to vote on my way to work or on my way home. (I have to early vote.)  I'm taking an unpaid day off and I stand outside of polling places handing out literature supporting candidates.  I get to experience the true down and dirty of elections and election day in Chicago and Cook County.

This isn't early voting or absentee ballots and it's not waiting inside a nice warm condo building or VFW hall for the next available polling booth.  No, I'm working the poll and I'm not making it rain.  And I'm cold.

I've worked election days when it's been warm, cold, raining, snowing, windy and a combination of all of these conditions.  Today, it's just cold (but supposed to rain later in the day).  While the pundits discuss the weather and how it will affect voter turnout, I listen to the forecast to determine what I should wear and how it will affect my health after election day.

Today, on November 6, 2012, I've been outside handing out palm cards to voters walking up to vote at a school located in one of Chicago's southwest suburbs since 6 a.m.  I stand behind a chalk-striped line on the sidewalk so that no one can accuse me, and therefore the candidate I am supporting, of breaking electioneering laws.  As each person steps out of their cars I brace myself for their arrival to my area adjacent to the path into the grammar school polling place and pull a palm card out of my pocket and recite my statement, "Good morning, I hope you can support __________ _________ for _______________; please punch #___ on the ballot."

I am not here supporting Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, no one at this polling place is.  Rather, this is what politics is all about around here, as Tip O'Neill said, "local."  In fact, before my lunch break during which I am writing this blog post, neither of the presidential candidates names has been mentioned by a single voter walking into the polling place.  This is Cook County and the people walking into the school I am working appear, for the most part, to be mind-made-up-already voters.  Some are kind and listen to my 5-second spiel and take the palm card. Others nod silently and politely while others say things like, "I already know who I'm voting for" or "Thanks, but no."

I'd say that of the 100 or so voters who entered the school between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., 95% are white and 80% of those are over 60 years old.  Not exactly a cross-section of America out here, but there's a steady stream of people who are making it their business to exercise their rights.  It may not be diverse, but it's definitely "small d" democratic.

Only one other poll worker is out there with me.  Donna is working for a congressional candidate and one of the nicest people I've met in quite a while.  She is doing this dirty work because her friend is good friends with her candidate's spouse and asked her to help out.  Donna is retired, but works at Wrigley Field as an usher during the baseball season.  During our hours together on the sidewalk, we share family stories, trade tales about the electoral process and discuss how her elderly father was afraid to use a computer when they first came out, but is now on his 8th different model.

While Donna and I are talking, an older couple approaches us.  They look to be in their mid-70's and he is wearing a pair of those wraparound old man sunglasses even though it is completely clouded over.  We both approach and give our quick speeches and hand our literature in his direction.  The geezer stops, turns in our direction and says, "I have three words for both of you.  Get A Life."  As our mouths open, unable to respond quickly enough (you have to be polite out here on these jobs), he answers himself and says, "Let me add a word.  Get A Real Life."  His wife looks at him, grabs onto his arm and they walk into the school together.

Donna was more upset about this guy than I was.  She said, incredulously, "How could he say that?  I have a nice life. Some people would say that I have a really good life and would like to have such a good life.  I don't understand that."  She is not a veteran of these kinds of assignments like I am.  Her face is getting red from the cold and she has never had to deal with people in this setting before.  I simply tell her, "There's no reason for that, but you shouldn't let him bother you.  And, what's with the sunglasses anyway?"

No one from CNN or the Tribune or WBBM Newsradio is out here chronicling the voter turnout or exit polling the people.  No one is bringing Donna or me coffee and donuts funded by a high-powered campaign.  But, we are here, doing our part in this political process; hoping to get a few votes, trying to stay warm and participating in the process that makes this the greatest nation around.  Even with people like sunglasses guy.

Gotta get back to work ...

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