Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ask Not for whom the cast ballot polls. It polls for thee!!

Pffft!  It must have been a long day indeed to butcher John Donne's meditation!  I've worked the polls today in Beat one, Leakesville precinct.  It was a grand day.  I was initially cold in the polling place but got hot walking around the courthouse lawn, visiting and whooping and hollering with others as a few surprising upsets occurred. Here's my day:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'm cool, unusual for August.  The thermostat in here reads 72 degrees, a temperature unknown in my house or in close proximity to the fry line.  I'm also sleepy, the four hours of restless sleep not nearly long enough for today's WORK work:  certified poll worker.

There are eleven, sometimes twelve of us working the Leakesville voting precinct in the metal building that is the town's Community Center.  It smells strongly of Tidy Bowl, the blocks of crystalline aromatic odor eliminator an assault on the olfactory senses.  Nannie had us here at 5:30 this morning to plug up and load the machines, post posters, give an accounting for encoders and paper ballots.  There are PINs to be officially logged in, oaths taken, coffee consumed, pecking orders established.  Seals are broken.  Ballot boxes are locked.

Voters arrive.  A grandmother has been asked to turn her grandson-candidate's campaign T-shirt she's worn in inside out. No campaigning or campaign materials withing 150 feet of the polling place.  It's a rule.  Husbands and wives mind each other's votes in this small rural town in the Deep South.  They're within the confines of the law.  Barely.  A large city polling place would have been spastic from the behavior but not us.  We know them all personally.

The lone Board of Aldermen man asks each registered and unregistered voter, "Republican?  or Democrat?"  It's not rocket science.  For this election and the next one there is NO crossover voting - you MUST vote the party of the candidate you most greatly desire in office.  The Alderman and the precinct supervisor point simultaneously at one table or the other.  Any bystander would swear their movements were rehearsed, the timing reminscent of synchronized swimming.  I expect to see Ethel Merman and a panel of Olympic judges walk through with cards numbered from 1 to 10 with tenth increments in between to judge each pointing - voter by voter.

The Alderman says "Republicans to the right;  Democrats to the left."  That's just the way it is here.

There have been a few affidavit votes - folks swearing they were voters in this precinct but aren't on the rolls for some reason.  The cast paper ballots are put in the affidavit envelope - the vote contained within valid only if both voter and witness sign across the flap of the envelope on pre-appointed lines.  It's a rule.

It's a paying position, the day's wages sufficiently covering the loss of the two declined cake orders.  My position today is the Voter Card Coder ENcoder - Republican ballot.  Local Democrat candidates well out-number Republicans in today's vote.  I've coded less than 100 cards to Mack's 400-something-ish.  That's alright, too.  I've had time to blog, in longhand nonetheless, the day as it's unfolded.

It's voter versus card versus voting machine:  a three way round robin tournament won individually and collectively -- technology often tag-teaming against the human competitor.  The deer-in-the-headlights looks are humorously effusive.  I can almost predict from the bewildered searching for the card slot who is going to raise their head, looking for the certified voter's assistant:  looking for help.  Eye contact prompts a gray-matter-taxed raised beckoning finger.  Computerized voting machines are still a novelty in Greene County, Mississippi.

The long Democratic ticket slows the human element of the voting process.  The average registered voting citizen with a working understanding of the written language and unafraid of newfangled-ness takes approximately four minutes to vote.  Our community voters are hardly average.  It's taking them six and seven and eight minutes to cast the ballot.  Four machines share both party's votes.  The waiting time to vote is 28 minutes during the evening rush.

Friends and family, significant others and enemies are turning out to vote today.  They've come in from the periphery of the precinct to support their candidates or cancel out someone else's vote.  The characters have come out of the woodwork, so to speak.  I've seen more hot pink adorning much more heifer flesh and body than it needs to today.  Self-ascribed studs strut their camouflage-bound beer bellies across the tiled floors.  I'm not a skinny Minnie.  Hardly.  But I know what NOT to wear when.

It's been a constant day broken by a few trips to the toilette - the stalls constructed of c-grade rough plywood provided by a community block grant from your government.  The lack of wood primer is evident, knot holes and bark blims make obscure stained patterns on the enclosure walls because the pine tar has bled through.  There is no decorative trim in the building, the closest thing to it being the wood veneer-encased metal girders, no mitering on the corners.  The Town fulfilled the expectation of accepting the lowest bid for the construction.  It's a project where the walls barely meet the ceilings flush and most of the toilets don't either.  The whole place smells of Tidy Bowl.

In true Presbyterian predestined, predetermined, preordained style the voting machine paper, the very necessary thing logging each person's vote, needs to be changed during the peak post-work-hours balloting time.  I should've started that pool on when all four rolls would have run out - I'd be at least a Coca Cola richer now.

Seven o'clock.  The polls close.  The absentee votes are checked for proper signatures, deciding the fate of rejection or acceptance based on the continuity of a person's mark while also getting checked off today's live vote register, right?  You vote absentee, your vote gets counted the day of the election as an actual vote (although it might be a day or so afterward). A few of them aren't adequate and are rejected, that word written in red and the total of them put into an official envelope printed with "REJECTED ABSENTEE BALLOTS" in  bold black lettering on a dark manila envelope made just 'specially for this day.

The two managers feed code into the voting machines, causing instantaneous whirring and clicking and printing to occur.  I've officially checked in the eight memory cards and four encoders.  Dismissed of further continuing duties this day, I've run home to put the voting vittles in the fridge, let the dog out, let the dog in, and come to the courthouse.

People, hundreds of people, have descended upon the courthouse grounds and steps and benches to watch the vote come in.  Young'uns are playing in the backs of parked trucks while parents prop or sit on tailgates, heads cocked to the side for one ear to hear the vote tallies being broadcast from the courtroom.

I've come upstairs to the balcony to watch it myself, declining a dozen offers to join friends under tents and in lawn chairs, coolers of sandwich fixings and drinks making the improvised obstacle course a delight to navigate.  Pimento and cheese?  Why yes!  I believe I will...

I'm struck with watery leaky eyes and a lumpy throat sitting here listening to Cecilia, incumbent chancery clerk, read off each precinct's results.  The little community I call home gets it.  They don't forsake their right to vote by dismissing it as an unimportant or trivial thing.  They embrace it.  Today their voice is important  and they know it.  The odoriferous community center; the lines; the parade of original homespun folk trusting enough to accept a coded card and figure out how to use it -- they're proud to be here wearing their hot pinks or camouflages badly.  Thank you for turning out and casting your vote today,  Leakesville, Greene County, Mississippi.  I'm so glad you're my home.....



  1. no better way to have put it...I am sure!


  2. What an inspiration to know that down home, Aunt Bea, kiss ya mama, yes ma'am and no ma'am, flag waving, chicken frying, country loving towns still exist! Thank you for this might sweet post.