October 2010 Archives

rally to restore sanity and/or fear

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So, we went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Well, sort of. The trains were so crowded that we couldn't get on. We went several stops the wrong way, until we finally got to a platform near the beginning of the line where the trains weren't as full and we could get on. Then the trains took longer than usual because at every stop, more people would try to cram onto the train, and they wouldn't be able to get the doors closed. So we'd go through this lengthy process of the lady on the intercom scolding us about standing away from the doors, but no one could hear her, and the people at the doors would argue with the people trying to get on, and eventually they'd either squash the extra people in or persuade them to step off, and we'd finally get the doors clear and move again.

So, the tour of Metro stations was fun but it meant that we got to the rally about 1. Hours after the allocated space had been completely filled and we couldn't even get close. We couldn't see anything, couldn't even see if there were jumbotrons much less where. We could hear that people were talking, but couldn't tell what they were saying. I don't think we ever made it onto the actual mall. We were on one of the side streets next to the mall, packed in like sardines.

I heard that the permit said they were expecting 60,000 people, and that's what they had planned for, and they actually ended up with at least 215,000. I believe it. The part where we were fighting to move through a solid wall of people was fairly un-fun. (And the part where I got separated from our group was downright terrifying.) But when we moved back and got to a less dense area, it was pretty fun. Just watching the crowds, looking at costumes and reading people's signs. We didn't worry about missing out on the actual rally because we had set up the DVR to record in. (In fact, we're watching it right now.) Kinda like going to a Grateful Dead concert and staying in the parking lot the whole time.

My sign was a big hit. Not only did lots of people comment on it, but it was an invaluable tool to help our group stay together when the crowding was the worst. Georg took photos of me with each side:
sanity sidefear side

Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo have good photo collections of costumes and signs. My favorite was one I didn't see on their sites: a guy dressed like Hitler standing on a crate. He was one of the first things I saw when we got to the rally. This sea of people, and whoa, there's Hitler! Holding a sign that said "No, I'm Hitler."

We left before the rally was over and didn't have any trouble getting on a train to go back to Chevy Chase. At first I was wishing we'd left early in the morning so we could have gotten close enough to see the actual rally. But as Georg pointed out, if we had gotten on the Metro at 9 instead of 11, we probably could have gotten a decent place on the mall. But, if we'd done that we would have been trapped behind 215,000 people all trying to exit at the same time. I heard that later in the afternoon it was as difficult to get on the Metro heading out of the city, as it had been to head towards the rally in the morning. Since we had to drive home last night after the rally, it's really good that we didn't get trapped in the middle of it.

rally to restore sanity and/or fear

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If you're attending the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I'll be easy to find: I'll be the one carrying this sign.
rally to restore sanity

See you there!

i voted

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election day accoutrementsI voted today! Up at North Library. There was a short line, 4-5 people, and most of the voting booths were full. I saw my chief judge from precinct 37; she told me she's been working early voting every day.

In other election news, my barrettes arrived! They're super cute. A little bigger than I had expected -- that just makes them easier for the voters to see! The only drawback is, every time I remove the "VOTE" one, it catches my hair & pulls one or two out. Ouch! I just have to make an extra effort to put them in correctly and not have to adjust them. I guess considering all the painful things I don't do for my appearance, this isn't so bad.

We went to A/V Geeks tonight at Fullsteam Brewery. Really fun. The theme was alcohol. My favorite was a 1970s movie where they got several volunteers to drive an obstacle course three times at the Catamount stock car track: sober, tipsy and super drunk. Drunk driving has never been so funny.

exceptional

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This evening was equipment training and exceptions training. Equipment training means learning how to operate the tabulator (the machine people stick ballots into), the voter assistance machine (it helps disabled voters mark their ballots) and the hand scanner. At the ballot table we have to scan the ballots and the ATVs (authorization to vote forms) to make sure everybody gets the right ballot style.

We broke into small groups to practice using the scanner. I was intimidated beforehand but it's really not hard. There's a little red crosshair that you hold over the barcode until it beeps. I guess if I'd worked retail in the past 15 years I would have done it already. They tried to make it relatively foolproof -- for instance it won't allow you to scan the same ATV twice.

The funny part was my small group. It was me, a guy and an older woman. We each took turns scanning a sample ballot and then we took turns starting up the scanner. When it was my turn, the older woman kept trying to yank it out of my hand -- I mean she literally grabbed my hand and tried to take the scanner from me. I didn't say anything, just didn't let her take it until I was done. While she took her turn I chatted with the guy. He's an ... I forget the term but he's an emergency judge. If someone's sick he fills in for them; otherwise he acts as a runner, delivering supplies to precincts throughout the day.

I thought this was really interesting so I was asking him a bunch of questions. Suddenly the older lady shouted at us, "I need help and you're standing there talking!" We were so taken aback we had a hard time not laughing. We thought she was reading the instructions aloud to herself, but apparently she was asking us for help. Without looking at us or phrasing anything as a question. Clearly we were remiss.

He apologized, which I thought was pretty generous of him. She just kept ranting about how we were supposed to help her and we were just talking. Then he said "Is that my job, to make sure you're doing okay? I'm sorry, I didn't realize that." The amazing thing was how even and pleasant he sounded. He really sounded like he was apologizing. But she took it at face value -- accepted his apology even.

I kept my mouth shut until after the session, then went up to him and congratulated him for handling that so well. He said he felt like he was being incredibly snarky! He must just be a super nice person. Even when he's trying to be sarcastic, it comes out kind and sincere. Not me -- if I tried to cut someone down, believe me, they'd know. Anyway we had a good laugh about it, and it wasn't until after he'd left that I realized I never even got his name. Oh well, maybe I'll see him at training again in 2012.

carbolicious

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At lunch today I saw a guy get the "Mike's Slammer" breakfast special (eggs, sausage, and pancake), pile the eggs and sausage on top of the pancake, pour the entire ramekin of syrup over it, fold it over and eat it like a breakfast burrito. Kind of amazing. I don't like eating that much in one sitting, and I don't even like eggs, and I still wanted to try it.

He looked super fit -- lean like a runner or cyclist -- and was wearing one of those shiny exercise shirts. Maybe he had just finished a 40 mile ride or something. I'm still in awe.

flu shot

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Before every election, NC poll workers have to be sworn in. Typically we do it at poll worker training, so I was sworn in on Thursday. Everybody stands up, we raise our right hands, then swear an oath together. I always remain silent on "so help me god." Likewise the "under god" in the pledge of allegiance. I would prefer not to say the pledge at all -- I think it's kind of ridiculous to pledge allegiance to a flag. Pledge to the country? Kind of jingoistic but I can see the point since we're officially government employees. But a flag? We pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth? I don't like it at all. But I always sit up front, and it would look bad to stand there silently for the entire pledge. So I say it, and omit the "under god."

Whatever! That's neither here nor there. The point is that to be an election official we have to take an oath. And part of the oath is that we will not reveal what happens inside the voting enclosure. I'm not sure whether that means the little booths where people are actually voting, or the entire room. To be safe I assume the latter. And I'm about to break that oath.

I always work the registration table. Where people walk up, state their name and address, I look them up in a book, if they're in there they sign a form, then take the form to the ballot table and turn it in for a ballot. This means that hundreds of people walk up to me and use my pen. On election day it's just them signing, I don't have to write anything. During early voting, because anyone can go to any voting location, there's a notation the poll worker has to make on the form. This means that I am sharing a pen with hundreds of people.

Which didn't bother me, until one day during early voting two years ago when a man walked up to my station, pulled a (clearly used) hankie out of his pocket, blew his nose loudly, picked up my pen and signed his name.

I was cool about it. I didn't recoil in horror or anything. Just sat there until he walked away, then grabbed the pen and ran to the back where I knew there was a bottle of hand sanitizer. Coated the pen and my hands with it. It got me to thinking though. That guy with the used hankie, his behavior disgusted me but in a way he was doing me a favor. Because it was obvious he was sick. How many sick people were coming in to vote, breathing on me and using my pen, and I had no idea?

I think of that moment as the beginning of the mild germ phobia I experience now. I never touch the door handle of a public bathroom with my bare hand. If someone uses my pen at work I clean it with hand sanitizer as soon as they walk away. If I'm near someone who's coughing or sounds sick, I try not to touch anything near them, and if I have to then I take care not to touch my face until I can wash my hands. I wash my hands kind of all the time. And I get flu shots now, which I never bothered with before.

It takes 2 weeks for a flu shot to be effective. I got mine early last week so I'd be protected by election day. I was super tired that night and my arm was sore for a couple of days. No other symptoms. And the guy at CVS did such a good job with the shot that I literally didn't know he had done it until it was over. I didn't feel the needle go in at all. Word to the wise, CVS on Hillsborough Rd. is the place to go for a painless flu shot!

I did get horribly sick right after the 2008 election, but I don't think it was the flu. It was a hacking cough so intense that I spent a day literally unable to talk. Georg and I communicated via online chat that day, because every time I tried to talk it would set off another coughing fit. It was kind of comical, the two of us sitting there with our laptops typing to each other. I wasn't surprised that I got sick that year: what with the campaign I'd been under such intense stress. It was no wonder I got rundown, and then got sick as soon as I allowed myself to stop. This year it's much less stress. Just the one day, plus training, plus I've been putting in some extra hours at work to "bank" against the time off. I think it's much more likely that I'll be able to avoid getting sick this time.

because it's the law

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vote.jpgPoll worker training was last night! Mike Ashe is back on his feet and in fine form. None of the folks from my precinct were there, they must all be scheduled in other training sessions. Instead I had a nice chat with some people from another precinct. One was completely new. Not just to being a poll worker but to voting in NC; he just moved here from another state. At one point he asked a question that referenced voters being behind a curtain, although we don't use curtains here in NC.

The hand scanners at the ballot table are here to stay, apparently. They're used to make sure each voter gets the right ballot. I signed up for equipment training just in case I end up at the ballot table on the 2nd. At the request of my chief judge I'm already scheduled to do exceptions training, which means being able to help people who have a problem, are in the wrong place, need to use a provisional ballot, etc.

I have to admit I'm a little nervous about working the exceptions table. There's so much more responsibility, so many possible situations to deal with. At past election days, my job has always been so easy! I'd sit there saying "Please state your name and address. Thank you for voting!" all day long. On the other hand, it's nice to know that my chief judge thinks I can handle it.

There was also a disquieting rumor: someone at training said that she had also gone to a "poll watcher training" sponsored by the Republican party. She said the poll watcher training said that when the voter states their name and address out loud, which they are required by law to do, we the poll workers are required by law to repeat their name and address out loud. According to Mike Ashe this is not true. I hope there aren't any confrontations between poll workers and misinformed observers. They're not supposed to interfere with poll workers or with the voting process, they can't even hover behind us while we're working. I'm sure it will be fine.

flag.jpgEvery year they encourage us to wear patriotic clothing (non partisan of course). I've never done it because everything suitable that I've ever seen was horrible kitch. Yesterday I finally found something patriotic, cute and non-tacky to wear: vintage barrettes from the 70s! I found them on Etsy: one has a flag design and one says "VOTE". They shipped today so I'll be sure to have them in time for election day. Yay!

I have to say, being a poll worker is such a great experience. It's fun, you get to meet your neighbors, you get to promote democracy, and work with nice people, and you get paid! It's the total package.

clinic escort

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I signed up to be a clinic escort for a local abortion clinic that's being targeted during "40 Days for Life." Which is apparently an annual event at which antiabortion protesters spend 40 days targeting clinics around the country.

Today I went to a "mini training" session. So called because there wasn't any training per se (no role playing or whatnot), it was a veteran clinic escort who just talked about her experiences, gave advice and answered questions. Some of the advice wasn't surprising -- like for instance, her rule #1 was don't engage with the protesters. Because you're there to help the patients get in the door without incident. If you start exchanging insults with the protesters, that's not going to help the patient at all & might even make her feel worse. The best thing to do, she said, was to get in between the protesters and the patient. Don't react to the protesters at all; just provide a physical barrier so their anger seems to be directed more at the escort than at the patient. That made sense to me.

The advice that surprised me was not to talk too much to the patients. At least, not to assume they want to talk. Because a lot of times they're feeling emotional about what's about to happen, and all the ugliness from the protesters just makes it worse. And you might think that a sympathetic conversation would make them feel better, but that may be the last thing they want. She said to just identify ourselves as clinic escorts, ask if they want us to walk with them to the door, and then leave it up to them if they want to talk or not.

I'm signed up to go this Saturday morning. As far as I know there's only going to be two escorts there that morning, so I hope there aren't too many protesters. Wish me luck!

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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