Friday, April 14, 2006

Long Beach, California: Being a Poll Worker Sucks!

My Doctor friend got hit with a virus: it is called Civic Duty. She is still recovering. Here is what she reports:

Hi, In a moment of temporary insanity I decided to volunteer as an election poll worker. I should have suspected something when a mundane city clerk official was extatic. A few minutes after I hung up I received a call from another extatic person who was assigning poll jobs. He asked me if I would be a Poll Inspector. Since I had never worked an election as a poll worker I didn't know what I was in for. He told me I would learn all I needed to know in a two hour class. Two hours, can't be much to learn. Right?
I receive a letter informing me of my poll location but no phone number to arrange a look-see before the big day. The phone company didn't have a listing. Long Beach has a number of yacht clubs and sailing training sites for the city, university system, county, private concerns and the Olympics, Etc. I call them all. I go to the site address to see what's up. The polling office has given me the wrong name and contact person. That was my second clue that I should bow out now. After we finally get a key that would work in the door for 'my' polling room I went home to call my poll workers to make sure they had signed up for their two hour instructional class which is the same as my class?????
Another clue. The first lady told me she wasn't available. The next call was to a robotic answering machine. Next, I get an old lady's machine saying she is out walking the dog. I was calling a 16 year old high school senior who had the GPA and gumption to volunteer. I do wonder about that dog given the number of times I called that number after I called the City Clerk's office to confirm the numbers. The City Clerk people and I are now on first name and voice recognition basis. The last number went to a recording saying that the phone was out of service. Except one time I called it and got the brother??? Was I dreaming? I am not sleeping well these days.
The letter had told me to pick up my ballot box and supplies starting at 7:30 A.M. Monday morning. I am not a morning person so I start practicing getting up at 5 so I can be at the poll site at 6. I go to the water company, which is just 4 doors east of my office.
Another clue that I should emigrate to a dictatorship country. The supplies haven't arrived. MAYBE they will be in on Thursday. MAYBE??? I have a real job, I own a real business! I don't get paid to be running the streets looking for supplies, tracking down ghost poll workers, mirage sail training sites. What am I in for? I call my shrink because I am getting closing to kill mode.
I am calm by the time I attend the 2-hour meeting at the gas company which is two blocks west of my office. I swear the gods were trying to warn me. The minute I turn into the parking lot a torrential rain with those kind of winds that turnout umbrellas hits and eventually dumps 2 inches of rain. I think I can fix my umbrella with super glue. The meeting was informative including the shouting match among three poll inspectors. I know I am not alone in my frustration.
I am moved to tears that the 'greatest' country in the world has such a screwed up mess of a polling system. How do we ever elect anyone? And it is not even election day. No wonder they can't get people to work the polls.
It is an important race for Long Beach, the most diverse city in the nation. We have more cultures, languages and ethnic resturants of any place in the world. We also have the third highest HIV/AIDS per capita population, The top hospitals and hospice programs. The third largest container shipping port in the world, one of the top oil producing regions in the world, We have the Queen Mary, the largest geodesic dome, and the Grand Prix Auto racing through our city streets.
Our retiring mayor, Beverly O'Neill is the the highest ranked elected official to be elected by write in vote and she is president of the U.S. Mayors Congress. This community works together and we want to keep it that way so the person who becomes mayor is critical. Also up was the City Attorney and City Auditor, distict counselmen and school board positions. By the way our schools are some of the most successful in the nation. Our kids wear uniforms. Our park system is one of the top 10 in the nation. It is a nice place to live most of the time. We also have a huge gang population.
I do digress. I call one of the workers and leave a massage on the robotic machine for help in setting up the poll. Monday night at 8 P.M. I set up the poll alone. I have already called the city and my coordinator for help with workers. Several times. I am slightly paniced. (sic) I get home and call the student. He is ready and excited. I tell my coordinator that I know I will be at work on Tues at 6 A.M. I THINK I can trust that the student will be there. I swallow two Ecederin PMs and hit the hay.
6 A.M., 6:30 A.M. 6:45 A.M. No student, no workers. I am dead. I am the poll inspector for one of the wealthiest, policially active areas in Long Beach. The Mayor lives here, so do 3 of 5 mayoral candidates, the two each for attorney and auditor and several of the candidates for district councelman. I am not going to cry. I have called all of my prayer circles from the Christians to the Hindus. This WILL work out. 6:55 a stranger arrives! Is he the robotic machine guy. NO! He is a voter who is early. Another stranger blows in with bags of fruit, water and slams down his things at the roster site. HE is the Robotic Man!I am soooo happy! He also has many years of poll experience, has lived in the area for 51 years and knows everyone! A minute to go and in walkes a cute California blond debutante. A voter? NO, she is the phone-out-of-order worker and she has poll experience! I had told the student that he could be the poll cryer to open and close the poll but he is not anywhere to be seen. I take the ballot box out to the voters and show them it is empty. We seal it up with our seals and signatures. The poll is open.
We have 842 registered voters. Nearly 200 have voted absentee (AV) Then we hear that over 1000 AVs haven't received their ballots including me. At 7:01 my student arrives. He was at the wrong poll. We have three polls within a mile of each other. This is going to be a problem for the next 13 hours. Robot Man and I make a lot of excecutive decissions to let frustrated, angry voters who have gone to the wrong polls vote provisionally at our poll. We take in the angry, frustrated AV voters who want to vote.
Debutante is actually a Political Science and Pre-law student. Don't have to ride herd on her. High School Student is brilliant. I tell him to learn as much as he can by watching. If there is a need to let me know or if he can, attend to it himself. He does his job. I ask the coordinator to do what she can to be sure he is paid. Someone steals our multi-language handicap sign!? He is mad that the poll is multi-lingual. Our well oiled team is teeming for 13 hours. The 16 year old poll cryer closes the poll. The ballot box is pocessed, the poll is taken down. All is accounted but the delivery of the box and equipment to the drop off center 4 doors east of my office. Robot Man and I are off. Another clue that I don't ever want to do this again. Nearly 400 poll stations have to drop off their stuff too. The line is two blocks long when we arrive. It will get to be five blocks long. BUT I know my neighborhood! When we can we turn off and go a circuitous route, park across the street and walk our stuff to the drop off center. We are thrashed and on our way home by 10 P.M. All of this for 175 votes. We are told our site had the highest number of voters not counting our AVs and provisional voters. I wonder if there is ever 50% or more of the total registered voters who vote to elect an official? Only 41%of the total voters voted in the presidential
election. Sort of sad sn't it?
Call the city clerk to volunteer as a poll worker,
just don't volunteer to be the poll inspector.

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