Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Boring Is Good

I spent the afternoon and early evening as a poll watcher yesterday. There are two weeks of early voting in Houston, ending Friday, with over 30 polling places. Voters can go to any polling place during early voting, unlike on voting day when they have to vote at their precinct location. During early voting, computers identify their ballot, which differs depending on city limits, school district, etc. It’s an off year, and voter turnout is light. But it was yet another opportunity to establish poll watchers as a regular, expected part of an election. This means many poll watchers will be both trained and experienced before the more critical presidential election next November. So I volunteered. I plan to work again next Tuesday, on the regular election day. 

I was sent to the polling location that has Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s office upstairs. Word on the street was that she had illegally shown up at the polling place twice last week, but things had been quiet since. Very quiet. Which is a good thing. 

Unlike last year, I did not sense animosity from the presiding judge and clerks, several of whom had worked at this early voting place for a number of years. They seemed content to have us there, instead of accused. There was good humor between clerks and particularly the other poll watcher, who was on the second of three days in a row of her volunteering. 

At one point there were two voters who had come together. One finished before the other and then came and stood behind the other. A clerk was immediately up, informing the finished voter to leave the voting booth area. He joked with us and said, “I had to do that before you two wrote me up.” He was on it by the time I noticed a need, and he wasn’t really worried about us; he was just doing a good job, with a smile. 

The comfortable camaraderie is what you would hope would be the result of people of differing opinions and parties both wanting free and fair elections. 

My poll watching partner told me things had been pretty boring. I brought books and food; I could keep myself occupied. One of my sons does guard duty, and we wish him a boring evening as he leaves for work; that means nothing serious happens, which is a good thing. A boring polling place means that free and fair elections are taking place. Wishing for adventure is wishing for bad things to happen. We hope that our being there will certify that those bad things aren’t happening. So, yesterday that meant mission accomplished. 

The biggest challenge was that, while it was nearly 80 degrees outside, inside there was a cold 60 degree wind. We wrapped ourselves in everything we could find. The cold sunk into the bones. When we took a restroom break, we would run our hands under the hot water long enough to thaw. This is one of the biggest weather challenges in Houston—freezing from air conditioning. So, it made my uneventful afternoon feel more like a sacrifice. But I don’t need it to be hard; I just want to be useful. I’m glad I had that opportunity to serve.

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