The other side of the election

(Blogger’s note: chapter 6 of my Iron Man fanfic, “Hearts and Souls,” is now online; you can check it out here.  Between that and the end of the World Series, I’ll be free to spend a little more time on blogging for the next couple of weeks.  Please hold your applause …)

Just in case you hadn’t heard, there were some elections in the United States yesterday.

Some folks won, others lost, there were a few mild surprises.  And I could talk about the various races and stuff.  I’m a bit of a political nerd; minored poli. sci. in college and everything.  Plus, I’m an opinionated son-of-a-gun.  So it’s tempting for me to address the Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives, or the various showings of “Tea Party” candidates, or how California elected Harvey Fierstein lieutenant governor, or even how former Portland Trailblazer Chris Dudley may become the first ex-NBA Big White Stiff to win a U.S. governorship.  It’s very tempting.

But I decided to look at yesterday’s election from a different point of view — namely, that of my wife.

On Tuesday, Nina served as an election official.  She’s a veteran of the process — this was her eighth time — and has risen up to become what in California is called a “polling inspector.”  (Basically, that means she’s in charge of a single voting precinct, and runs its polling place.)  She took a couple of years off when she had a full-time job, but now that she’s back to substitute teaching, it’s easy for her to beg off of assignments on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and do the election thang.  Besides, she gets about $85 for a full-day sub assignment, whereas the one-day pay for a polling inspector is $220, so that’s a win.

Her work at polling places has given her a different perspective on the process from most people.  For her, an election isn’t about the Republicans or Democrats or various ballot propositions — it’s either “busy” (a lot of people come in to vote) or “slow” (they don’t).  Lately they’ve been slow and getting slower, due to a combination of voter apathy (especially here in Stockton, where apathy is almost a religious pursuit) and the growing popularity of voting by mail.  Nina had over 800 registered voters in her precinct this year; only 117 came in to vote, plus 23 dropped off mail-in ballots.  It’s likely that 200-400 others sent their ballots in through the mail.

Most of all, an election for Nina is about work — hard work.  In her role as polling inspector, she had to:

  • attempt to contact all of her assigned poll workers to make sure they’ll be there.  This usually requires several calls apiece over the space of a month to people who haven’t clued in that you can buy cheap, reliable answering machines, so she can’t even leave messages when they aren’t there.  Often the poll workers are high school or college students, so they aren’t very good about returning messages even when you can leave one.  Most of the time, people show up … but nowhere near all the time.
  • attend a three-hour class the Friday evening before the election, to get caught up on any new election laws or procedures and to practice setting up the notoriously cantankerous TSX electronic-voting machines.  (This was the first time in eight tries that both the TSX machines assigned to her precinct worked the first try.)  Nina is usually in bed by 9 p.m., as she does her best on about nine hours’ sleep; with the class, she wasn’t even home until almost 10.
  • pick up her ballot materials, ballot box, paperwork and TSX machines on the Saturday before the election — and basically guard them with her life.
  • scout the polling location in advance and make sure everything can be set up in time for the opening of the polls at 7 a.m. on Election Day.  This year her site was an auto dealership at the other end of town (and Stockton spraaaaaawls, so “the other end of town” is a bit of a hop), so that meant arranging with the sales staff for not only space to set up but also for someone to unlock the gate before 6 on the big day.

And then … Election day itself.  Hoo-boy.

First, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had to get up at 4:50 a.m. — Nina to get herself ready, me to load the sacrosanct four cases of stuff and machinery into the van.  (With Stockton’s high rate of auto theft, we don’t dare load it the night before.)  Then we hared over to the other end of the city … only to find that no one was there yet.  Both the entrance and exit were still locked and barred, using the kind of steel-pipe gate one usually sees on cattle ranches.  We ended up parking across the street in the parking lot of … well, as its proprietors prefer to call it, an “adult superstore,” trying desperately to not look like pervs while staring forlornly across the way, waiting for somebody with a key to show.

Finally, though, someone did, so we drove across and I unloaded the van as the other poll workers came straggling in.  By 6 we had everything moved into the showroom, and I was free to head home and take care of the kids.  And that’s what I did — for the next fourteen and a half hours, until Nina called and told me it was time to come pick her up.  Then we toted all the materiel back to where we’d gotten it on Saturday, dropped it off for the election officials and headed home.

The upshot is that Nina, a CMT sufferer with lifelong stamina issues (among others) put in a 15-hour work day for the election.  Granted, she spent most of the day sitting down, and she did get lunch and dinner breaks.  But still, 15 hours — you try it sometime!  And then today she went back to her regular job in a public school classroom.  To quote Jack Black, “it may look easy … but nothing could be harder.”

It got me to thinking.  How many of the 140 people who came by the car place to vote or drop off ballots realized that the gorgeous redhead behind the table was doing basically two full workdays, back to back, so that they could exercise their constitutional right to choose their government?  (My guess is zero.)  For that matter, how many of us are cognizant of the amount of energy expended by the people serving us at the restaurant or department store or DMV or wherever?  Does it ever cross our minds how much of themselves they are giving up in order to serve us our meal or find shoes in our size or help us transfer a title deed?

Mind you, there’s almost nothing worse that being ignored or treated rudely by those who are hired to help us as customers, and when it happens to me I’m the first to object — vociferously.  But at the same time, when the service truly serves us, or is at least adequate, do we likewise speak up?  If we’re going to get exercised about bad service, shouldn’t we also do so about good service?  And regardless of the quality, do we recognize that the person wearing the name tag or apron is just that, a person, as prone to good days and bad days, squalling kids, car trouble and unforeseen circumstances as we are?

Especially if you’re a Christian — someone who believes that God created all people and loves them equally — shouldn’t this be in one’s conscious mind whenever one is visiting a business?  And yet it doesn’t seem to be the case.  It’s a well-known phenomenon in the restaurant industry that “visible Christians” — those who are outspoken about their faith — are the worst tippers.  I tend to tip excessively (usually starting in the 20% range and going up for really good service), and a lot of the reason why is to make up for Brother So-and-So three tables down, who berates the waitress when his fries are slightly crispier than he prefers, and then leaves a quarter tip and a Jack Chick tract for a $26 meal.  (The rest of the reason is that I bussed tables for a few months once — and never forgot it.)

It’s something to think about — as customers, as consumers, do we apply the Golden Rule in these situations?  When we’re at Wal-Mart or Wendy’s or the post office, do we do unto the stocker, the cashier and the mail clerk as we would have them do unto us?  And if not … why not?


One Response to The other side of the election

  1. Lori Knutson says:

    Another good thought-provoking post, Ray. I try to treat everybody as I would like to be treated, and that goes for everybody I encounter, whether it be the executive director or the janitor.

    After Annika died and we started meeting people who had also lost children, I realized that everybody has their own story. You just never know what someone has been through in their life.

    I’ve told only my boss about Annika, and the many other people I work with at my new job have no idea that I just lost my baby. It’s still too fresh for me to share that with them.

    Point being, everybody I work with probably has had experiences that I would find surprising also. If everybody was mindful of this, I think there would be less nastiness and rudeness in the world. We’re all in this together, so we might as well be compassionate towards one another (and acknowledge a job well done, as you pointed out).

    I also start my tipping at 20% and will go higher if I receive excellent service. I’ve never waited tables, but I know people who have.

    Take care,

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