This entry was 90% written the day following election day, but here I am nearly a week later, finally posting it. Perhaps I should give up on any hope of being timely with my posts again.
As usual with the first Tuesday in November, I was up at 4am to work yesterday’s election. It was another long day–I didn’t get home until 9:30pm–and it started off dark, cold, windy, and rainy. Seems fitting, in some ways.
This year, we had a number of important state and local seats up. Locally, Loudoun took a surprisingly Democratic turn with a number of Republican incumbents unexpectedly unseated. And thankfully, the one race I was most interested in went the way I had hoped (certain readers will know which one I mean). But I’m not here to talk about politics… I just wanted to share some stories and thoughts about last week’s election in my precinct.
For the most part, there were no major issues. Our optical voting machine didn’t start properly and required a technician, but that was about the extent of it. We had a single touch-screen system in place and it was used by about 25% of the voters. Voter turnout in my precinct was in the 33% range, exceeding county-wide expectations. Still, only about half of the turnout we’ll get next year for the presidential race.
Here are a few stories I thought I’d share about my sixth (I think?) time working the polls.
Electronic Voting Haters
Here’s the thing: I agree with the people that announced that they weren’t going to use the touch-screen voting system because it has a history of being hackable and doesn’t produce a paper trail. On election day, of course, I can’t say that.
But, folks, why are you announcing it loudly to the election officials when you’re politely asked if you’d like to use the paper ballot or the touch-screen? It only makes you look like a self-important douche who just likes to hear himself talk. We’re only working here for the day, for just slightly more than minimum wage. We didn’t decide to use the systems and we didn’t design them, so back off.
The I-Hate-Spanish (People and the Language) Guy
After depositing his paper ballot, one man walked past myself and another election worker and said, “Thanks for not printing my ballot in Spanish.”
This struck me as one of the most dickheaded comments a person could make. Seriously, how racist do you have to be to hate a group of people so much that you hate their language, too?
This got me to thinking a bit more about the current focus on immigration issues and the ongoing “Spanish as a second national language” debate. While the arguments behind the most aggressive wall-building anti-immigration laws and “if they live here, they should speak the language” attitudes may on the surface seem to be driven by some sort of swollen American pride, in reality, they’re in line with any historical example of unjust discrimination we’ve ever seen. They take a group of people, make them “the other,” and imply that the status quo will be ruined, our lives changed forever, and then the tables of discrimination turned on us. It’s all so tired.
John (a name I’m making up because I forget his real name and I probably shouldn’t use it anyway) is from Nigeria. He came to the US in 1982 and only visits home occasionally. He said that at first, it was difficult leaving home because of his brothers and sisters that he left behind. As time went on, though, he grew apart from them, so it’s not as hard to rarely see or talk to them.
Even after 25 years, some things in America are still amazing him. This was his first time working the polls in the United States and he noted early the differences with Nigerian elections. “There,” he said, “You’d go to vote and have to worry about getting shot. People running for office would kill to win.”
Later, he observed that the five-year-old elementary school we were working in was “nicer than the nicest Nigerian University.”
In the last minute rush of signing documents at the end of the night, I need to go back into the office tomorrow morning to sign one of the election results sheets that I somehow missed. It’s the first time such a thing has happened.