11.05.2008

working the poll

Yesterday was the greatest.

I was a poll worker in a Normal Heights precinct. It was my first time doing something like this. But my motives were not altruistic; I selfishly wanted to be a part of history.

When I arrived at 0530, there was a single person in line waiting. By the time the poll opened at 0700, the line had grown to a few dozen. Shortly after 0700, the line snaked around a little patio garden and and onto the sidewalk, maybe 50 people. That's as bad as it got, though. Besides the initial rush, no one else had to wait over a couple of minutes.

I worked in a dual precinct, and there was a lot of confusion as to who needed to go to what precinct. So directing voters to the correct precinct became my job. Which immediately led to my first insight (may only apply to California): BRING YOUR VOTER PAMPHLET WITH YOU. Not only does it explicitly state your precinct, it makes it much faster to find you on the voter rolls. None of this "How do you spell your last name? What street do you live on?" Just hand the guide off and you're set. Those who brought their pamplet had a much easier time than those who didn't. It had never occurred to me to do so, but from here on out it will be the norm.

Those who had worked previous elections said that turnout was absolutely heavier than any other recent election. It seemed odd to me, because we had some periods of a few minutes when no one came into the precinct. But I was told that in a "normal" election there are up to twenty-minute chunks when no one comes in.

Normal Heights is pretty ethnically mixed, so I wasn't surprised to see so many Black and Latino voters. But I was still a little choked up by it. There were so many people who said that it was their first time voting. And these were middle aged voters, and not all of them were Black. You could feel the excitement. Not just from them, but everyone: young, old, Black, White, Latino, Asian, disabled, whoever. Of course, I don't know how they actually voted, but I have an idea. I note that this process made me realize I live in an amazing extended neighborhood (Kensington-Normal Heights).

But the most bestest part of the day were the black children. I'll use one particular family as an example of what I mean. There are four of them: Mom, Dad, and two kids, in the range of 8-12. We set up some chairs for people who were waiting, so the kids waited there while their parents voted. These kids had no idea how significant this was. Well, they might have some idea. I'm sure their parents had explained the significance to them. I'm not qualified to say at what age the concept of race and all the stuff that comes with it kicks in, but there's no doubt that as far as race goes, their parents went through more far more than they did. And their grandparents even more, and so on until you get a timeline back to the reason all of this matters so much: slavery.  Then the full realization of what was going to happen hits you. Holy shit. These kids will grow up and barely remember when there was no black president.

I don't really know how to put into words what I felt, and apologies if I've worded any of this in a confusing or insensitive manner. I realize it's probably a little douche-y to be a lily-white guy, who has never been affected by any sort of discrimination, co-opting this moment as proof of his country's redemption.

But I cannot deny that yesterday was one of the best days of my life.
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