Tag Archives: democracy

Veterans of Domestic Elections

Veterans of Domestic Elections    —by Jinny Batterson

Last Tuesday, I got up before 5 a.m., put on multiple layers of clothes, grabbed a hurried breakfast, packed water and snacks, then headed for a nearby precinct where I was assigned to work during this year’s municipal elections. This year was the third year I’ve served as a non-partisan precinct officer during early voting and/or on election days, after receiving initial training and participating in annual refresher courses.

A touchstone of our training is to do everything in our power to allow a prospective voter to cast a ballot. As our political process has become more divisive and hyper-partisan, this can be complicated. Successive gerrymanders and court challenges have sometimes moved voters from one jurisdiction to another, even when they have not physically changed address. Economic downturns and regional disparities have caused other voters to relocate, often without the will or the resources to become aware of issues, candidates, or election dates and procedures in their new locales. Identification requirements have changed frequently and can be confusing, even to precinct workers. Some prospective voters are homeless, making address verification especially difficult.

Luckily for me, the precinct where I worked in this year’s election was relatively stable. Interest in the election was high, with contested races for town mayor and several town council seats. During the nearly thirteen hours from the time our doors opened for voting until the final voter revved his car into the parking lot and panted his way through the precinct entrance a minute before closing, we were rarely idle. Seven of us combined our efforts to perform needed precinct tasks: we verified names and addresses, authorized voting for those properly registered, handed out ballots, answered questions, redirected those who’d showed up at the wrong precinct, gently dissuaded those who’d showed up on the wrong date, provided advice and provisional ballots for those whose voting status was in question, thanked citizens for voting and gave them “I voted” stickers, checked and cross-checked voting tallies to make sure our manual and automated counts stayed reconciled.

A few days after the election came Veterans’ Day. Originally established as a holiday to commemorate the armistice that ended the “war to end all wars” on November 11, 1918 at 11 a.m. and later expanded to include all U.S. veterans, we’ve sometimes degraded the day’s significance. Rather than a reflection on the tragedies and sacrifices of war, we’ve sometimes substituted a jingoistic, commercial-laden extravaganza of pious political sloganeering and holiday sales. The original meaning of Veterans’ Day came home to me more clearly the following day, a Sunday, when our religious congregation honored the living veterans in our community of worshipers and seekers. Some in this varied lot of men and women, ranging from oldsters to those barely out of their teens, had endured hardships and dangers much more severe than the uncomfortable chairs and brief days’ spells of disrupted eating I’d experienced. Yet their sacrifices were partly in service to the work I’d recently participated in. The values we hold dear—fairness, humility, compassion, inclusion—have been fought for at the ballot box as courageously as on any battlefield.

One of our oldest and largest veterans’ rights organizations, Veterans of Foreign Wars, states its mission as honoring veterans’ service, plus making sure veterans get the full benefits they deserve. To ensure this, the group lobbies as an organization, but much of its strength comes from members’ capacity and willingness to vote.

Helping preserve our values and our democracy requires free and fair elections in which as many of us as possible participate. My election-assistance services are episodic and short-lived, but important nevertheless. I’m glad to be among the veterans of domestic elections.

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Tribute to Leonard Cohen

Tribute to Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)    —by Jinny Batterson

(Leonard Cohen, peripatetic Canadian poet and singer-songwriter, died in Los Angeles on November 7, 2016, a bit too early to absorb the results of the latest U.S. election.  I’m convinced, though, that his spirit still prowls. This short tribute incorporates snippets of several of Cohen’s best-known lyrics: Anthem, You Want it Darker, Suzanne, The Story of Isaac, and Democracy)  For a picture of Cohen near the end of his long life, see:

http://www.billboard.com/files/styles/article_main_image/public/media/leonard-cohen-2013-billboard-650×430.jpg

The bells that still will ring
These post-election days are ringing darker.
Though some the victor’s fulsome praises sing,
For others, the rifts are getting starker.

I saw him only once, we both were young.
In an Expo coffeehouse near Suzanne’s river,
He curled his raspy voice, lips, teeth and tongue
Around the credo that we lean toward love forever.

Bombastic tweets of blunt and bloodied hammering
May make hate and fear here for a time hold sway.
Yet, through the crack in everything
Democracy’s still coming to the U.S.A.

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 3

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central North Carolina, Third Installment                                   —by Jinny Batterson

After an exhausting week, our early voting team processed our final voter at about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon. Polls officially closed at 1 p.m., but anyone in line then was entitled to cast a ballot. With each successive day of the week, lines got longer—on Monday and Tuesday, we were generally able to keep the wait time to an hour or less. On Saturday morning, before we even opened at 9, the line snaked around the edges of the parking lot and spilled over into a nearby field, requiring more crowd control chains to keep it at least partly organized. Many voters waited for two hours or more.

The site where I worked this past week is in a part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle that has a substantial Asian population. We processed more than a few Patels, along with some Wangs, Zhangs and Nguyens.  I was somewhat surprised at the number of voters with Hispanic surnames who came to our site to cast their ballots. Many voters of all backgrounds came in family groups. Our youngest “future voter” was only three days old.  Children were generally well-behaved, but most evenings produced at least one cranky toddler (not surprising given the wait times).  A few assistance dogs went through the lines with their voters; at least one wheelchair-bound voter cast his ballot, as did a few voters with vision or hearings impairments who used a special machine that provided magnification and voice-overs of ballot choices.      

According to our local TV news channel, by the end of today’s voting, nearly 44% of eligible voters in our county had cast ballots, either in person or by mail, a new record, surpassing the 2012 total by over 40,000 votes. I’m glad I had a chance to facilitate the process. Whatever the election’s outcome, I’m heartened to see so many people turn out to vote. During wait times, voters often chatted with their line-mates. As people approached the voting area, I saw some handshakes and exchanges of contact information. I tried not to prejudge which people would be likely to support which candidates. Except for a few enthusiasts of all persuasions who sported strident slogans on their clothing, it was impossible to tell. We poll workers were given very strict instructions about the sanctity of the secret ballot.

I’m about as tired as I’ve ever been. As a non-partisan worker, I get two days respite before Election Day on Tuesday. Maybe I’ll catch up on sleep and exercise just a bit.  However, I’m grateful to have had a chance to bear direct witness as nearly 20,000 of my fellow citizens exercised their right to choose their elected officials—officials who’ll help direct our schools, our courts, our county government, our state and our nation. Whatever our democracy’s flaws, and they are many, our actual voting process can be a beautiful thing.