Making sausage

The NC Primary Election was on May 17. For some 2 weeks before that day, I worked a polling place for a buddy who was running for state senate. You can learn a lot-about politics, candidates, money, people-doing this. I’ve done it before, but this time I had the time to pay attention and to deal with the voters at the retail level-one or two at a time. It was a slow election.

Most of the voters were pretty nice folks. You develop a quick instinctual take on who is open to your pitch and who isn’t, who you’ll put off if you talk too long and who will be receptive. You don’t get perfect at it until you have a lot of elections under your belt, and this was only my third. So I occasionally misjudge. Sometimes I get cussed at, but that’s exceedingly rare. Usually, that sort is just rude. You take it in step, because you’re not there to argue politics. You’re there to educate, and you may get as little as 5 seconds to make your educational pitch. Often you don’t get to make it at all.

I don’t mind not getting to make my pitch. Even though I’ve given it some thought, and I’ve got my super-short pitch and my longer pitch, when some one says “Already got my mind made up,” or just a simple “No, thank you,”, I know that I’ve just met someone who has at least done some homework on the subject at hand. I just thank them for coming out to vote. And I thank them even if I’m sure they’re voting “wrong”, because at least they did that homework and took the time to come out and vote. In this election, only 20% of registered voters in this county did that.

Let me tell you something-democracy doesn’t die in darkness. What it does is die from voter apathy. You want to know how things have gotten as screwed up as they are in this country? 20% of registered voters voted in a mid-term primary.

I have learned that people around here have certain folks whose information they implicitly trust. I’ve been able to work with one of them for all three elections. The guy is in his mid-80s, and he’s out there constantly. Rain or shine, heat or cold. And person after person, couple after couple, come up to him and say “Hey So-and-so, who am I voting for in this race?” or “Hey, let me see your cheat sheet so I don’t get it wrong in there.” And this is totally legal and above-board, as long as certain etiquette is maintained. Heck, I asked him to let me check it before I voted. We disagreed on 2 races, one of which was my candidate. I backed losing candidates in both races. He picked 100% winners. The man knows his politics. He holds that while the big fun is things like the Federal stuff, where the rubber meets the road is in the municipal, county and state races, because they’e closer to your daily life. I can’t see how he’s wrong.

On the 17th, I put my partisan gear away, became as non-partisan as I could force myself to be and worked as a poll worker in my local precinct, helping my neighbors exercise the franchise. Again, it was slow, and to keep my flagging interest up (15 hours on 4 hours sleep is a long day for a young man, and I ain’t one any more), I played a game with myself. Since I got to see what ballot the voter I was assisting was going to vote, I tried to guess, based on physical appearance alone, what ballot they were going to vote. I learned the truth of the old saying “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

Here’s three examples. I know my area is mostly White. There are a few Hispanics and some Blacks, but it’s overwhelmingly White. After the first few Blacks I’d helped were all voting Democrat, I figured the young black couple who wanted to vote side by side would do the same. Nope, Republican ballots, the both of them. There was the casually-but-expensively dressed White couple about my age. I recognized the country club logo on his golf shirt, having played there more than a few times back when I could swing a club without pain. Definitely going to be Re…Democrats? Then there was the young, overly tattooed woman with the two kids and the big bear-looking husband (?). Too many body piercings to be anything but a…Republican.

You really can’t judge these books by their covers, and doing so may well cause you to miss something important.

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