Behind Scens as Voter Cast Their Ballots
Sitting at my keyboard exhausted, smelling of senior citizens, hands covered in spilled ink pens, and with my eyes shot from reading the hundreds of lines of names, I have never been more proud to be an American. Despite the three hours of sleep before an 18-hour workday, my experience as a poll worker in the most important election of my lifetime, possibly in any of our lifetimes, has shown me, regardless of any party affiliation, the potential our country has in terms of political interest.
Setting up the polls at 6 a.m. is more of an exercise in zombie-like movements, as the participants in the polling precinct are all fully aware of their mandatory 12-hour workday, not counting the overtime of counting and arranging votes. Reports for the past two weeks had been projecting lines and waits unlike any other election before, and this only fed the beast. By 6:30 a.m., a line stretching around the entire building had formed, being split into two lines for each precinct at our polling place... which created two lines that stretched around the building.
As voters began to file into the precinct, the experience could be described as underwhelming. Working as a poll worker, your job positions are limited to: finding names on a roster, highlighting names, handing out ballots, and giving out the elusive "I Voted" stickers. Since the highly respected sticker-handing position had been taking, I opted to take the second-most difficult position available: tearing ballots out of a booklet and handing them to voters.
What followed was a two-hour romp in paper tearing...that never ended. When there appeared to be a gap, it was actually a family of voters who had grouped together to complete all of their voter information. Of course, only the manliest of men would have their hand begin to cramp after 90 minutes, and I am one of those manly men. In four hours we had processed 280 ballots, which average to 70 ballots an hour, which in turn translates to more than a ballot per minute. Kimbo Slice can't even tear paper that fast.
But where my wimpy hands began to fail America, its citizens prevailed. Voter after voter entered the precinct, excited and eager to cast their votes. A family of four entered the precinct and walked towards our booth. After the father gave his name and address to the two clerks working with the name rosters, he turned back to the head inspector and asked, in broken English, the question "And my vote will count?" Once reassured, the man and his family smiled and then walked together as a unit to a polling booth.
Helping the citizens of my hometown, many whom I have known all of my life, gives off an odd feeling; there are few positions one can hold that directly make the voices of several hundred people heard. According to records released on election night, more than 86% of Los Angeles County voters turned out to vote for Election Day, reflecting the magnitude of the importance of such an election.
With one hour until the polls close, the lack of incoming voters leaves the poll workers antsy. Our inspector and I check our phones every five minutes for polling results along the east coast. The electoral votes begin to come in. 78-7, Obama. 118-17, Obama. 192-58, Obama.
As the clock strikes 8 p.m., the polls close, and the difference between the setup of the polls and the closing of the polls is a piece of comedy. The speed in which everything is closed up is like a NASCAR pit race, with no one wanting to stay longer than necessary. Once all of the supplies are loaded into the inspector's car, the inspector chooses a clerk to come with to verify that the votes made it to the "drop point." Since I had mentioned I was writing an article on poll working, and since the inspector had shown me his flight simulator on his phone, I seemed the logical choice.
Driving in a Land Rover filled to the brim with boxes of ballots, paperwork, and polling equipment, we arrive at the "drop point": a nighttime convey of vehicles, dumping their election supplies at three semi-trucks as the bags of ballots are escorted by sheriff's deputy vehicles. I learn that these ballots make it onto helicopters, which fly eventually to Norwalk, with my inspector accompanying one of those helicopters. His night ends Wednesday morning, as the sun is rising and the last of the votes have been counted; my night ends once the last of the boxes have been taken from the Land Rover.
Perhaps it is the fact that the amount of hours of sleep I've had in the last two days is directly proportional to the number of toes I have on one foot. But as the results of the election flash across the screen, and the citizens of the U.S., nay, the world celebrate the election of Barack Obama as President similar to the end of Return of the Jedi, I can say that the turnout alone has reignited my pride for America and its politics. There are not many places in the world one can say, "Yes, we can" and mean it, let alone be heard. Keep that in mind.