Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poll Position in a Folding Chair

Yesterday in Boston's municipal preliminary, I was clerk at a polling location in Hyde Park. All but one of us (four inspectors, an interpreter and the warden included) had worked the past gubernatorial and presidential elections. We were disappointed.

The local rags and other media buy the line that because the 23% of registered voters appearing exceeded the city's predictions, turnout was great (see the Herald's piece for one example). We in the folding chairs kept asking where the voters were.

We had a few flurries between 8 and 9 a.m. and 5:30 and 6 p.m. Only once in the 13 open hours did we have all eight of our ballot stations in two stands occupied at one time. Lackaday.

Perhaps odder to this politically minded sort, a startling number of voters commented that they knew nothing of the 15 city-council candidates. Roughly one fifth of our voters left that part of the ballot blank, voting only for mayor.

How in James Michael Curley's name can you have avoided:
  • Learning about the council candidates, where were ubiquitous and cacophonous?
  • Seeing and hearing the mayoral candidates debating, advertising and being covered by all media?
  • Getting excited about the sweeping changes mayoral challengers demanded?
  • Having a once-in-a-decade chance to elect multiple new councilors?
Voters managed.

Poll workers aren't supposed to talk politics at all during the election days. That was tough. Several candidates, including Steve Murphy and Tomas Gonzalez were out front for hours. Steve said his 80-ish parents were working the polls at the precinct up the hill. Plus some of the campaign workers (including a candidate's wife) were trash talking various contenders. It was real tempting to join in. Yet, I had my tacky marker-written ID badge with stars and stripes. I was an identifiable official with a modulated mouth.

I was a bit disappointed that Council John Connolly didn't show, but sent a surrogate. I was not aware that his wife apparently intentionally coordinated her latest birth with an election. John and I spent 90 minutes or so talking education a week and change ago and are planning to do a podcast on it. He mentioned that she was eight and one-half months pregnant and how much he was looking forward to the new one. Conga-rats to John and Meg for Edward Ronan.

An oddment yesterday was over a dozen spoiled ballots. Those tend to be rare from my previous experience. It was young, middle-aged and elderly, men and women, and even the afternoon cop on duty at the check-out table was goofed up the ballots. A few were in attentive, like using an X instead of filling in the oval as shows repeatedly on the ballot and posted instructions. Most though were in council races, typically overvoting beyond the four maximum.

The huge list of 15 candidates seemed a bit much for many voters. Quite a few asked for clarification on how and how many to vote for or complained that it was hard to find their candidates in the pile.

In the end, we had 428 ballots in our precinct — okay, but not great.

We had none of those pesky provisional ballots that require a call to elections for a database check, filling in multiple forms, and sending off your vote with the hope that downtown will clear you and count your choices. Yet, we had a lot of people who had not returned the annual city voter census form, requiring ID checks and maybe a phone call, plus a single form.

In the many dead moments, we got to socialize among the crew. For me, an extra benefit was culinary conversation with the afternoon cop. This part of Hyde Park is rife with resident police, including both guys yesterday. The afternoon one had already tried most of the local restaurants, including the several new ones. He gave good tips and mini-reviews. Plus, he spends most of most days in a patrol car, so he thinks fat control that tilts his comments toward adult concerns.

Unfortunately, I worked one precinct away from my voting location up the hill. They needed a clerk down the hill. So, I didn't get to meet any close neighbors. In my previous work in a JP location, I knew and chatted with a lot of folk on my block and nearby. Likewise, the cop on duty worked the whole day, lived on my street and generally could check out the voters on the way to the machine by sight. It was a jolly room.

We're likely to have the same crew come November 3rd. We can build on some of our personal tale. Then again, we may be too busy. We're hoping for twice, but not three times, the number of voters for the general. There's a pride of participation on our side of the check-in table too.

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fausto said...

Where do you live? I'm right on the Milton-Hyde Park line.

massmarrier said...

I'm on the HP side of Fairmount Hill. There's no way to get home without the climb.

JP Admirer said...

Thanks for your service as a warden, it's really important to get knowledgable people to serve in these positions and it sounds like you did your job well.

massmarrier said...

Thanks. I was a level down, clerk. I've stepped in for the warden a few times at polls and am not eager to do that all day. It involves a lot of phone calls to elections at City Hall to check registrations, often for impatient and angry would-be voters. They asked me to step up to clerk and I did. I probably would to warden too if one didn't show or they were short wardens.

Most of our crew takes a day off work, rather than are retired. They all feel it is their duty. I think more citizens should. It leaves good feelings, particularly when someone has been struggling and you can help them have their say by ballot.

fausto said...

We must be neighbors. I'm on Williams Ave. Half my yard is in HP and half in Milton. I attend First Parish in Milton.

massmarrier said...

Let's sit down and compare notes. I'd likely benefit from your knowledge of the neighborhood. My website off my profile has my resume with email, phone and address. I don't see a way to contact you.