But first, more than you wanted to know about me

- posted by Sous-blogger Deb

For about a dozen years I’ve worked as an election judge. I start at 2PM and stay until we’ve finished closing, counting and packing up. There are a few judges who start at 6AM and go off duty as I’m arriving, but most of the team works the whole time. Tuesday night I got home about 11:15. When the polls closed at 8PM, I was the youngest and fittest person in the building. Absurd, but true. (I’m giving myself credit for cardio, weights and agility.) It pays $8.75 an hour, though many judges waive the salary and volunteer. Every couple of years there’s a mandatory two-hour training class which is, I kid you not, fascinating. In fact, one of the reasons I keep doing this is because I have to check and see if Judy still has the training magic. I’m assigned to my home precinct, which is only a block away. It’s very fun to touch base with my neighbors as they come through the door to vote. Minnesota has the highest voter turnout in the country, and our precinct typically has the second highest turnout in the state. Tuesday we had 2222 voters, plus about 300 absentee ballots. Our lead judge is experienced, serious, and attentive to detail. We follow the rules in my precinct.

In my regular life, my political views are extremely partisan. Or maybe partisan and extreme. (On November 7, 2000, I took a Vow of Bitterness. Do you need to know more than that?) What really draws me back year after year is that for one day I live in a scrupulously non-partisan democracy. I come home exhausted but proud, with a renewed sense of citizenship. This year’s highlights:

- A very elderly couple in the traditional garb of India came in s-l-o-w-l-y, being assisted by a younger (60-ish?) friend. One used a walker and the other used a cane. Their friend asked if they could by-pass the waiting line, and everyone in line said “Yes, of course.”
- Several first-time voters wanted a photo of themselves as they slid the ballot into the counter.
- Mid-afternoon a guy came in, and after a while it became clear that he was having trouble with the process. Two election judges (one from each party) approached him to offer help. He said he had had a head injury, and so it was really hard for him to finish the ballot. They sat with him for about a half hour, and then he watched as the counter on the ballot box registered his vote.
- There’s a chamber in the ballot box to collect all the paper ballots. When it gets too full, two judges take out the ballots, put them in Tyvek bags, and seal them. (At the end of the day, every judge signs across the flap of every envelope.) At one point there were two judges on their knees on the floor managing the paper, and we had to have everyone wait. We told them that this was democracy in action, and that Minnesota has a tradition of clean elections because we have this paper trail in the unlikely event of a recount.

Since I woke up Wednesday morning, I’ve been increasingly aware that my breathing has relaxed and deepened. My heart has stopped pounding. The tightness in my chest is gone, and I hadn’t even realized it was there. (I’m faithful about yoga, and I teach people how to back out of panic attacks with breathing. I thought I had it covered.)

Do you think we’ve all been holding our breath for the last eight years?

Just imagine what it will feel like to wake up January 20th.

OK, back to you.


Anonymous said...

You would think that opening a play (and we were NOT ready this time, our dress rehearsals were rife with glitches) would be the most stressful part of my week.


Like you, SB, I could feel the tension drift away after Tuesday. My back stopped hurting, my blood pressure calmed.

Maybe it's because the play will happen, the pieces will come together... That's how theater works. As so aptly explained by Geoffrey Rush's character in Shakespeare in Love:

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

Gotta love that Tom Stoppard. He got it right.

We opened last night and the first 40 minutes or so HAD NOT A SINGLE MISTAKE. I was beaming with pride. Of course, the glitches showed up eventually, but the kids had been well prepared by me, and by Aaron Sorkin (via President Jed Bartlett). They knew "Mistakes will happen. Minimize them. Fix them. Move on." And that's exactly what they did.

How would I teach without Hollywood?

And so, to come back to the main point, Shakespeare says that all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, but for the past eight years our play has been glitching and glitching and glitching and it has felt like there was little chance of getting back on track. And even though our governance affects us daily, the players have been so far removed from us, it's not like we could give them a quick note backstage and fix their errors.

Then came Tuesday.

Finally, I can believe in "life is a play" again.
And it's not a tragedy, thank goodness.
It's a wonderful, fixed, mystery.


Meema said...

I've been in awe of the election process since learning about it in elementary school, and I have deep respect for those who give of their time to help the wheels of democracy turn. Thank you, SB, for your service. I'm a bit jealous - what an amazing year to be a participant on that level!

I plan on taking a personal day on January 20. There is no way I will pass that day in a poorly ventilated, windowless, semi-soundproof rehearsal module.

Come to think of it, we really ought to make it a national holiday. That, and Election Day.

Sean said...

Cool post. You're one of two friends of mine who were judges that day.

I wasn't holding my breath for eight years--I was gritting my teeth. My jaw feels much better since Tuesday...