It was a long, long day on Tuesday when I volunteered to be a poll greeter for the campaigns of Rodger Koopman and Russ Stephenson. My feet hit the floor at 5 AM and I basically wasn’t off my feet until midnight that night.
After showering that morning, I threw my umbrella, a folding chair, and a bunch of campaign signs into the car and headed out to nearby polling places to make sure signs were out. Then I picked up more from Rodger’s house and headed north.
I arrived at my assigned polling place at 6:35 to find the parking lot full already. My Odom counterpart, Collin, was already there greeting voters. I set up my chair closer to the “no campaigning past this sign” limit, held up my sign and smiled in the drizzle at the disinterested voters who walked past.
The polling place was a fire station and two crews of firefighters were there for the shift change. Occasionally one would walk out to his car and offer a cheerful hello. One of them even brought me a cup of coffee, though when I went inside later to fetch one for my counterpart the captain gruffly told me the kitchen was “all shut down.”
Collin soon migrated up to where I was and introduced himself. While sometimes meeting poll greeters from competing campaigns can become tense, Collin was quite friendly and I usually make it a point to be nice to the other side. Frankly, by the time the polls open the campaigning is all but over, so I enjoy speaking to the other side. We basically spent the whole day comparing notes about working on campaigns and trading opinions on all sorts of topics. To my surprise I found that he and I agreed on practically everything, the only difference being the candidates we support. It made the day go by much quicker than it ordinarily would.
We both laughed at voters who studied the posted sample ballot far longer than the four choices they had to make required. We both studied the faces of exiting voters to gauge who voted for whom. And we both took numerous cellphone calls during the day, both playing important roles in the campaigns.
Around midday, I jokingly asked Collin who an exiting voter voted for. For the rest of the day we traded guesses on whether a voter was my voter or his voter, even going so far as to pledge to bring counters to the next election and compare our guesses to the real results. When I told my campaign manager at midday that Rodger was getting one out of three votes my estimate was surprisingly accurate: he lost that precinct by almost that exact margin.
John Odom showed up at the polling place for a while, too, and I also engaged him in conversation. We talked about the U2 traffic fiasco, his family, and other topics. After a while he would head off to another precinct and return a few hours later.
A mother and her 6 year old daughter left the polling place just as an elderly couple was arriving. The elderly woman leaned her wrinkled face down to the girl’s level and asked her a question.
“Who should I vote for?” she asked the girl. The girl thought for a moment.
“Barack Obama,” she replied before her mom pulled her along. The woman then hobbled up to me.
“She told me to vote for Barack Obama,” she hissed, a look of horror on her face. The girl may as well have suggested Satan himself.
Not long after the firefighter shift-change, I turned around to see the precinct’s chief judge looking nervously at me. I was on the phone and quickly hung up to see what she wanted.
“Your chair is too close to the polling place and needs to be moved,” she told me, pointing to the campaign-limit sign.
I thought, are you kidding me? My chair was next to the sign, but still outside the required 50-foot radius from the door. Did she have nothing better to do than to make me move my chair six inches?
At first I tried to argue. “Well, my chair is outside of the 50-foot zone. You could hold a tape measure from the door and I’d be outside of it.”
“This is just in case someone complains,” she said again.
It was obvious my arguments were getting nowhere. I considered getting a tape measure and actually showing her that my chair could appear to be behind the sign and still be outside of the zone. Then I thought, oh, screw it. I picked up my chair and moved it the six inches she asked me to, after which she returned to the polling place. Throughout the day she would occasionally pop out and check on my chair and each time Collin and I would laugh about her.
Toward the end of the day a brief lull would take place, during which I would break out my juggling balls. One gentleman complimented me on my juggling and in the follow-on conversation let on that he was a sailor. We spent the next ten minutes wistfully discussing sailboats. I enjoyed the diversion.
A few voters came up to Collin and me and asked each of us to tell them why they should vote for our candidates. Rattling off these selling points became good practice and kept us on our toes. I don’t know if it converted any voters, though.
One obviously-conflicted African American woman came up to me and confided she was not a fan of school busing. A long conversation followed, after which I had won her over to my candidates. That encounter is itself worthy of a blog post, which will come later.
Around 5 PM, another campaign greeter showed up and we all were laughing and joking before long. About 6:30PM the precinct had registered 400 voters. I predicted a little later that we wouldn’t break 450 and we didn’t: the final count was 434. This included a family that raced up to vote at the very last minute, hauling two giggling kids still in their pajamas, apparently just whisked out of bed.
The crowds left, the streetlights had returned, and Collin and I waited until the poll closed so we could get the candidate counts fresh from the polling machine. It didn’t take long to learn my candidate lost. My guess had been accurate and for once I was sorry I was right.
I thanked Collin for the conversation and booked down to campaign headquarters to commiserate with my fellow volunteers. Then it was off to downtown to meet the other candidates. I stopped by another’s house to congratulate him before heading home. Bedtime was midnight. Election Days are marathon days, to be sure.
It was tough work, and challenging work – standing in the rain all day long on behalf of a candidate. And yet I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I think meeting people is the best thing about campaigns, so just being there made it all worthwhile. You win some and you lose some, but at least I know I got involved.