This time tomorrow we should have a clear idea whether or not Barack Obama gets four more years or if Mitt Romney becomes the 46th President of the United States. Election time is always a strange time in America. The news will highlight the issues facing the nation with narratives of people struggling and striving; we then prepare for the debates and their required meta-drama. There are the conventions where each party rallies their forces; reporters and historians try to set the pace; and everyone else hopes for something interesting. And then we come to the day itself. Every first Tuesday in November America as a nation elects the Chief Executive of our country.
Its one of those occasions when depending on the candidates can be electrifying or boring or useless depending on how you fall. With early voting a widespread thing you don’t have the lines you use to have. And sadly since I’ve moved, I don’t get to make the trek to the Community Center where I was bound to run in to at least one person I knew from some early stage of life.
Elections are always funny things; they have a lot of importance to aspects of our lives but we don’t engage in it fully until a Presidential election. Then everyone and their mother has an opinion or volunteers. Celebrities show up telling people to get out the vote. Now where does all this excitement and involvement go when its time for regular voting? Your answer is as good as mine.
This year I’ve been disengaged from politics and policy in general; this is strange for me because I’ve always been a big Wonk (policy nerd). I think it’s because I worked a couple of elections. I volunteered for a Senatorial campaign and in the last Presidential election I helped to put on the election in my state. Both were illuminating and interesting. But they were also weird, frustrating, and slightly maddening affairs. And as I see the news and read my Twitter feed I’m reminded of how strange elections can be.
Volunteering is for the Young and the True Believers
I got a call to come to this event out east for Representative F, a young guy who was running for the US Senate. He had long been considered a Democratic favorite and possible Presidential nominee. I knew this was going to be strange when I heard his local Campaign manager talk about the roll out for the campaign. He wasn’t from here (our state or city) and he was conveyed that in describing the city by use of Highway and Interstate markers as opposed to how anyone who stayed at least a month would. It was one of those touches you remember because it conveys how important you think a certain place is. At the time the Representative was concentrating not so much on his base area, where I was, but on getting counties that were decidedly more conservative and red. The job of this little office was to be a typical headquarters and I ended up handling calling people from lists to see if they wanted a sign or if they’d vote for my candidate.
Let me say something, I have major respect for anyone willing to cold call people for hours on end for months or weeks. Between the wrong numbers, people treating you as if you were the IRS, feelings of shame from calling someone hard of hearing, and the many “The Number you’ve dialed is either changed or disconnected” messages I had come to the nice cold realization that as much as I liked politics, I didn’t like it that much. Don’t get me wrong if you believe in a candidate, volunteer, but understand this is work without pay (and we know how we like that). The one interesting thing I learned and experienced was just how small and connected local politics could be; the mother of one the major players in the local party was a volunteer as was another lady who later was nominated into an County Office position.
It Looks so Different from the Other Side
You would never imagine that it takes months and months of preparation and training to pull off a 24 hour event; and even then it could all go funny. That was what I learned when I was with the Election Commission. I came in a little after most of the setup had started. I started in the main office, typing in the names of the newly voted. It would always be interesting to see people come in and catch an attitude about picking up cards. For your information, in my state people and organizations get a certain allotment of voter registration papers; the number you get is the number you need to return, otherwise no new ones.
The number of people who have been told this and forget or act like its a minor formality is staggering. I remember one dude talking to the lady in charge, “What you don’t want people to vote? You don’t want change?” I also saw a lot of men, mostly, coming to get back their right to vote; which reaffirms faith in the idea of voting as a sacred right. You’d also get a lot of lost folks. After a week I moved to the Operations center. Here I dealt with a lot of contractors and handled a tech rollout. It lead me to a deeper understanding of Sisyphus.
At the Ops center our job was to do one thing, get ready for the election. Specifically we were introducing devices to help volunteers speed up the voting process. It involved a lot of Q and A work; also a lot of just moving the device. It was an act in perpetual rock moving most times; at one point we had to send the mass of device back a few weeks before election night. It also involved dealing with contractors which was weird because they immediately become both part of the team and at times they who must not be named. At one point my day was cataloguing the devices and dealing with the contractors.
When the day came it started at night; I had to be at Ops before 4 am, in a suit and stayed until Wednesday the next day. Tomorrow in the US we will vote on our next President along with a number of important issues throughout the states. Here’s hoping you make an informed choice if you decide to vote and that you stay safe.