Monday, February 04, 2008

While I'm prepping for Cold Turkey Tuesday

I'm baking a tray of brownies to take with me to the polls tomorrow. I'll be going "cold turkey" on the blogs since I'll be working the polls from 6:30 am to about 10:00 pm. I thought I might write something about that experience here before I find out what tomorrow really turns out to be. I've done this once before, for a municipal election. It was a wonderful and wonky experience. The cambridge I live in, at least since I was a kid and went to public school, seems much more white and upper class than it is in reality. When you get involved with local politics, you start seeing another cambridge entirely and its very much a working class and non white world. Cambridge city hall and the cambridge election services really look multi-racial compared to the university world.

There are three levels of poll worker: the highest is "warden" then "clerk" and then "inspector." The "inspectors" were all older african amerian women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. Generally speaking it seems to be a job for retired people because it pays so badly, and it occupies such an odd stretch of time (a full tuesday two or three times a year at most?) that few people with a steady job could do it. They do this every election and they said they had refused to be bumped "up" to clerk or warden because now there's a lot of fussing to be done with computerized stuff--a computer for making the ballots large enough for poor eyesight and a computer that reads the paper ballots. When that stuff doesn't work its a huge headache. Plus if you are clerk or warden you have to stay to the bitter end and take the ballots to headquarters at 8:30-9:00 and then make your way home. Its a pretty brutal day. You get an unpaid hour off for "lunch" around ten in the morning and an hour off for "dinner" at 3:00--hence the brownies because we all got little dingy around four o'clock. The precinct where I work is on a busy street, in a senior citizens center, so all day long we get foot traffic from a dense residential area behind the precinct and also elderly men and women of all races wander down in their a) best clothes or b) pajamas to vote. I helped people in track suits and a ninty year old woman dolled up as though she was going to vegas. Its the most intimate experience you can imagine. Those inspectors seem to know everyone and everyone they know is greeted with cheers and hails of affection. The other election I worked the inspector ladies had the best time quizzing every (black) person who came in and asking them "was jesus a vegetarian?" This seemed like it was both a real question (one of the inspectors daughter's had brought up this theological question recently) and also like a kind of hysterical in joke, like "if Jesus were alive today, who do you think his favorite band would be?" On the other hand this precinct is actually the one I grew up in and I kept running into the parents of kids I'd gone to school with--old lefties and old professors.

It was a very hard day and we worked, and sometimes struggled, to make sure everyone got to vote and understood how to vote. I don't anticipate that it will be that hard tomorrow since at least its not Cambridge's proportional voting system but a straight up ballot. But its going to be hectic as tons of non regular voters turn out to vote and are puzzled by the procedure or are not correctly registered.