Monday, February 25, 2008

Last ten movies I watched...

Evidently I've been watching a lot of old movies instead of blogging, so the last ten get their own post.

Anthony Perkins and Orson Welles in The Trial.

Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart in Passage to Marseille

Tom Hanks in Big.

Humphrey Bogart and Elisha Cook, Jr. in The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Terrence Stamp as Billy Budd

Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Bette Davis and Warren William in Satan Met a Lady

Raymond Massey and Humphrey Bogart in Action in the North Atlantic

Hoagy Carmichael (at the piano) and
Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not

Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers
  • The Trial (1962)
  • Passage to Marseille (1944)
  • Big (1988)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Billy Budd (1962)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  • Satan Met a Lady (1936)
  • Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
  • To Have and Have Not (1944)
  • The Three Musketeers (1948)

    Things I've been listening to...

  • Worry Rock─Green Day─Nimrod
  • Under Pressure─Queen
  • Don't Be a Lemming─k.d. lang─Reintarnation
  • Maurenzio: Tirsi morir volea─Concerto Vocale; René Jacobs, conductor─Maurenzio: Madrigaux
  • Poor Butterfly─Sarah Vaughan─At Mister Kelly's
  • One Fine Day─Natalie Merchant
  • Enter Evening─Cecil Taylor Unit─Smithsonian Collection of Jazz
  • The Folks Who Live on the Hill─Maxine Sullivan─A Proper Introduction To Maxine Sullivan - Moments Like This
  • Death Cab for Cutie─The Bongo Dog Doo-Dah Band
  • Bird on a Wire─Jennifer Warnes─Famous Blue Raincoat

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

impressions of a poll worker

It was quiet, cold, and peaceful. Frost on the leaves and rooftops. The street lamps gave off a warm orange light. Before setting out to find Room D-1 and begin my new one-day job, I looked up at the stars twinkling in the clear and still dark early morning sky. A rare and beautiful sight for night owl like me.

The polls open at 7:00 am, we were supposed to be there at 6:00 for the set-up. I was a few minutes late and hadn’t had time to eat my bagel and coffee, so I brought it with me.

Some people were setting up, while others milled about waiting to be told what to do. Nobody was talking much at this hour, and I was able to keep a low profile while I ate my breakfast, the cream cheese of which was suddenly very messy to manage as ate quickly with groggy fingers.

When I was done with breakfast, I took the job of placing orange cones at specified locations outside. When I was done with that, I saw that the new-fangled optical scanners and touch-screen machines needed to be liberated from their compact cases and assembled. I avoided the high-tech stuff, though, and occupied myself with masking tape and the large stack of notices that needed to be posted around the room.

By the time the polls opened, there were several people already waiting to vote, and we still had a fair amount of clutter and confusion to contend with Neither the touch-screen machines nor their operators were ready, but we had the ballots fresh from the box, so there was no delay. The first voter had to verify that the ballot box was empty before it is closed and ready to receive the fruits of the day’s voting. She seemed to be familiar with this procedure.

Our town comprises two voting precincts representing respectively the east and west sides of the state highway dividing it. Sharing Room D-1, each precinct had a table with a crew of five election clerks.

The two precincts also shared a single election inspector, responsible for making sure all the various procedures, tallies, certifications, amputations, etc. are done correctly, and also delivers the ballots to the county's drop-off point when it's all over.

When I applied for the job, I checked the box saying I was willing to be an inspector. I am so grateful that they assigned me to be a lowly clerk instead. I can't imagine having to handle the countless extra duties.

The inspector also handled voters with a variety of often time-consuming complications, usually resulting in them having to submit a provisional ballot (sardonically referred to by some as a placebo ballot, because they rarely have any impact on an election).

Arriving voters, most of whom were unaware of which of the two precincts they belonged to, were asked to imagine the highway passing between the two tables, and visualize which side their house was located on. An imprecise method as it turned out, not everyone thinks in terms of compass bearings. Naturally, voters were usually confused, and there was a lot of shunting between tables.

It being a primary election, there was a variety of ballots to accommodate the various party affiliations. It did help that they were color-coated. I’m a big believer in the efficacy of color-coding. It was my job to make sure that the voter got the proper ballot.

Complicating things just a bit more, non-partisan voters, commonly referred to as independent voters, got to choose between a non-partisan, a Democratic, or an American Independent Party ballot. (But not Republican.)

In the course of the day there were about a dozen people in our precinct registered with the American Independent Party. I would say that in every case it appeared that they thought they were registered as independents (non-partisans) and would therefore be able to vote using a major party ballot. Based on this observation, it seems to me that confusion is the only thing sustaining AIP’s membership.

I quickly got into the groove of tearing off the appropriate ballot from its tablet, handing it to the voter, and smiling. I gradually formed a bond with our crew, while the other crew, working at the other table on the other side of the imaginary highway, seemed somehow distant and alien─certainly no where near as cool as our table, in any case.

We did, however, have a rather curmudgeonly clerk, the spouse of the inspector, whose manner was gruff and abrupt. Naturally, then, it was his job to greet the voters, get their name, verify it on the list, and then have them sign in, and write down their street address. If they forgot to include the address, it was like some great moral affront, and he would bark at them to come back and write down their address.

He was also disproportionately irked if the voter didn’t make a prompt and resolute choice between a paper ballot or touch-screen. Granted, we weren’t allowed to influence their choice, so an answer of "either is fine" made our job just a little bit harder.

He seemed to enjoy announcing in a loud voice people’s party affiliation, “You’re a Republican!” If they objected to this, he would say, well, I have to tell him so he can give you the right ballot. Others at our table preferred the more discreet method of referring to the color of the ballot instead of the name of the party; e.g., purple for Republican, brown for Democrat. (Incidentally, the Green Party had a light yellowish-brown ballot. The Election Board was not going to give them any tacit advantage by making it green.)

Many a voter seemed nettled or intimidated by this grumpy poll work, who muttered more than once that this was the last election he would work on. I should have said something about his manner, but being a newbie, and he being the inspector’s spouse, I'm afraid I wimped out. I don't think anyone was prevented from casting the ballot they wanted.

At some point I had to vote myself. I didn’t have to go far. I was registered with the other precinct in the room. I had had a silly but insistent foreboding that because I was working at the polling place where I was registered, I wouldn’t be allowed to vote. Nobody had said anything about it at the training, but I thought maybe I had missed something, and I thought I heard something to the effect that we were supposed to vote by mail. I was saved from having to ask when one of my colleagues got up to vote at the other table.

So, who’d I vote for? I wasn’t going to vote for Sen. Clinton because of her refusal to repudiate her part in authorizing George W. Bush to attack Iraq, a vote she could easily have justified by pointing out that the President officially lied to Congress in an incriminating document, the March 18, 2003 Presidential Letter stating that Saddam Hussein 1) had an active nuclear weapons program, and 2) had direct ties to the attacks of 9/11. This letter was a condition of the resolution that Hilary Clinton and the majority of both houses of Congress signed. Every member who voted for the resolution should be outraged by this false document. But they all continue to be quiet about it to this day, and the mainstream press hasn’t had much to say either.

Since Edwards deprived me of the opportunity to vote for him, I took a bit of a chance, I guess, by giving my vote to Barack Obama. I'm not clear on the specifics of most of his policy proposals, and I’m afraid his health care reforms won’t go far enough. Primarily it was his inspirational and positive message, and speaking out against the war when it was unpopular to do so, that won my vote.

The voter turnout was high. There was a bit of a lull after lunch, but around 3:00 o’clock, the flow picked up and remained steady. Lines started to form, and we had to stay on our toes. We went through five times as many Democratic ballots as Republicans. This was a surprise to me, as I thought we had a lot of Republicans living in the hills. I'd like to think it portends a massive turnout of Democratic voters in November.

At last 8:00 o’clock arrived. The voters tapered in the minutes leading to closing time. One woman arrived at 8:05, her young daughter with her. Our inspector apologized, and said she was too late. She let her fill out a provisional ballot, but it’s very doubtful that it was counted.

Naturally by this point we were all exhausted. But we still had to break everything down, dismantle the machines and the voting booths, sort and count and certify and verify, and witness, and sign, and then package up all the various items and pieces of paper into their assigned packets.

At one point during this hectic process the inspector moaned, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I forgot to vote!”

I yanked all the signs off the walls, inside and out, and retrieved all the orange cones. That just about wiped me out. Those things are heavy, and I still haven’t recovered from a bout of bronchitis that's been plaguing me for the past couple weeks.

I figured at this point the best thing I could do was to keep out of people’s way, so I sat in a chair on the other side of the room and zoned out. Detachedly I watched the execution of the multitude of sundry meticulous procedures undertaken or overseen by the Inspector, who had to go through the complex verification and certification procedures twice, once for each precinct. I thought about how all this was taking place at each precinct in each county, in every county of the state, and in each of the 22 states having their primaries that day. Utterly mind-boggling that it works as well as it does.

As I watched our poll workers doing an earnest and honest job processing the ballots according to the county’s procedures, in the spirit of a free democracy, I took a moment to think about the intrigues of alleged vote tampering by Baldwin County officials in Alabama which resulted in a reversal of Governor Don Siegelman re-election victory in 2002. That was just the beginning of the chilling and sensational story that eventually lead to Siegelman getting hauled off to prison on trumped up charges.

Finally, at 9:30, 15½ hours after it started, it was time to for us to call it a night and go our separate ways. The inspector hugged me, thanked me for my service, and asked if I was up for doing it again next time. I was so exhausted, I really didn’t think so. I told her I would think about it. And now, less than 24 hours later, I’m pretty sure I will sign up for it again. It is gratifying to be part of the election process, to interact with my community, and what better excuse to take the day off from work than to celebrate democracy at work? It’s certainly not the $75 they pay.

As I drove home, I heard on the radio that California was already being declared for Senator Clinton, before our humble collection of ballots had even been delivered to the county for counting.

    Last 10 movies I watched...

  • The Bishop's Wife (1947)
  • Mr. Arkadin (1955)
  • The Elephant Man (1980)
  • This Sporting Life (1963)
  • Underdog (2007)
  • Hairspray (2007)
  • Evan Almighty (2007)
  • Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  • The Magnificent Amberson's (2002)