First vote and that time I was a poll worker…

November 7, 2016

It is the night before the election 2016. I will cast my vote tomorrow because I like voting at a polling station on election day. The guarantee of free and fair elections is one central to a democracy and participating in that process is how we secure that. It is one way to have a voice and to be a civic participant. It is important, who ever you chose to vote for to treat voting with respect. People in this nation have laid down their lives and risked their safety to secure a chance to vote.

The first time I got to vote I was in college in Wisconsin. It was the 1988 Bush v Dukakis election. I was so excited to vote. My dad had run for mayor of the town I grew up in and then for congress. He didn’t win either, but it instilled in me the importance of voting and also how awful politicians can be to each other, but that is a story for another time. In this election I marched down to the polling place trough the November slush in my big winter boots bundled in a huge 80’s style men’s over coat, mittens, scarf and hat. The floor was wet with little puddles from voter’s boots and as I walked towards to booth I tripped on my shoe lace slipped in a puddle and fell into the voting booth. I put my arms out to brake my fall and fell right into the voting booth, my hand hit the big lever and I inadvertently voted for the whole Republican Slate straight across the board. I cried. I had studied and chosen my candidates, all democratic across the board. That was my vote. Heartbreak…I called my dad who was voting for Bush to ask him to please vote for Dukakis. I do not know if he did. But, I do know that he voted for Bernie in the primaries and will vote for Hillary now. Go dad!

The next year in Chicago there was an election I think it was for mayor and some state and local offices, I was a 19 years old and living in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. I decided to be a poll worker – I forget the name of the organization I went through, but they trained poll workers to watch for and report election fraud in Chicago’s notoriously corrupt election process. There were neighborhood party bosses linked into the party machines that intimidated residents through strong handing them and doing things like getting their garbage not picked up and singling them out in other small ways. There was also voter intimidation and names wiped from rolls, double voting, poll workers got paid and received favors by the parties and …so poll workers trained by this organization, which was a state organization, were sent into problem districts to regulate and report.

I got assigned a polling station on the Gold Coast that served a set of high rises filled with older Chicagoians who voted Democrat across the board always, so there was some thought that perhaps there was some voter intimidation going on. I figured it would be an easier gig than my comrades were handed. They were off to polling stations where there had been fights, intimidation with weapons or where there was incredible racial tension. I was going to be with middle class to moneyed old white people. Everyone else was sent in pairs, I was sent alone.

I got to the polling station early election day morning. I was younger by decades than everyone there. I had a long blonde pony tail and was wearing a long skirt a few sweaters and boots. The other workers were kind but very wary of me and pretty much all had walkers or canes. As I started to set up the room the way I had learned in the poll worker workshops I had done. I figured they were not helping me because I was young and they were old and not too mobile. But, then I found out they were waiting for “the boss” to come.

The boss. He was a faded red haired man in his 50s I would guess. He wore a suit and a flashy gold watch and too much cologne for that hour in the morning, or any time really. If I had not been from New Jersey I would have laughed at his mobbish showmanship, but I grew up with that, so I watched him to see if it was show or if he had those eyes that have the hint of flipping from “kind” to “I’m gonna kill you”, and he did. But, he wasn’t all that smart, just a bully who had never been challenged.  Which is someone to be wary of. But, being idealistic, young and imbued with the importance of the democratic process I challenged him. Quietly.

He took one look at me and sized me up like he was going to eat me. I swear he licked his thin lips. He walked right past me and rearranged the room “back to normal” so all the voting booths faced out. This he said was so that the voters could fit walkers and wheelchairs into the booths and get help. Really it was just so their votes could be seen. I turned them back around showing him the regulations. He said no standing very close and using his height to intimidate me and turned them back.

I let him win that one figuring that I was in for a long day and that the people who voted here were used to using the polls that way. This was in the time before cell phones. The polling station was in a laundry room in the basement of a high rise apartment building. It was cold and there were no windows and no phone in the room. There was a payphone outside the door of the room, but to use it you had to close the door of the room. The bathroom was also out of the room, down a long  hallway.

To make a long story short, throughout the day this man broke every rule there was in voting and decency. He handed out voter information in the polling room, he helped people vote – actually filling out the ballot and putting it in the box for them. He brought lunch for everyone but me, gave the other workers boxes of chocolates and heaters.

I succeeded in getting him to leave the room by calling the election police, but they never came because they were busy in other places. When I was out of the room away from the other people on the phone he stood close to me and whispered in my ear very explicit comments about my body and what he knew I longed for happening from an experienced real man like him. He followed me down the hallway to the bathroom continuing to harass me. I ignored him and kept trying to keep the voting as fair as I could without freaking out the older folks who were so used to this. They were old and this had been their normal for years and they didn’t want to be singled out by the party machine.

After he followed me to the bathroom a second time getting bolder in his comments I turned to face him and said something like, “You keep telling me you are man. You are not a man, you are a 50 year old toddler bully picking on someone smaller than you saying things I would assume your wife would be very upset by hearing. I do not find you attractive in any way. I do not long for your manly lessons, fuck off.” while I was saying this he stuck he tongue out at me with his thumbs in his ears and and said “Blah blah blah I can’t hear you.” For reals.

They day continued. The election police never came even though I called many times. In the end I could not keep him out of the room. I stood at the door and kept him out but he would jump in and say ha ha ha I am in the room if I moved from the door. For reals, 5o year old man. He came in at the end and sent the poll workers away and said, I put this room and the votes away. I said no. He said, Ok. then you do it. So I did. I put that whole polling station away. Waited for the pick up and he waited outside for me. I saw him in his car and he followed me to the train telling me he would follow me home, he knew my name and where I lived.

I ignored him and got home. Called the election police again and filled a full story. They sent a full election team to that district the next time around. But, I do not know what happened to that horrible man.

I do know that I am with her. And all the hers out there. Every time I see Donald Trump I see that man. And, that is no way to be a man. Or a leader. I will be proud to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday because I believe we are stronger together, stronger when we build each other up instead of tearing each other down and stronger when women are treated with the innate respect we deserve. Period. I am with her. And for that matter with Jane Kim.






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