First published on the WestCoaster.ca (link) in May 2009, the day after the provincial election. I’ve been meaning to get it up here since then….
I am hardly an hour back from today’s stint as voting clerk in the provincial election, and i must say it was an enlightening little adventure.
First off, it was clear that, while we may lack for female candidates in front of the cameras, the bulk of our electoral burden is borne by women. Of the 14 of us serving up ballots hot and fresh to Tofino voters on Tuesday, but one was male. (Me, in case that needs pointing out). This made for some uneasy self-questioning during the tranquil early hours, but fortunately none of my co-workers seemed to notice or care, and once the action hotted up toward noon, gender fell off the radar.
Second, it’s quite a trick to put together an airtight voting system. I was boggled by the complexity of the exercise, which required (according to my training manual) no less than 35 different components, from lowly pencils and sharpeners to the myriad custom-printed reporting forms for every little departure from routine, and the equally myriad envelopes into which the almighty ballots and everything else must be stuffed at evening’s end. If you like bureaucracy, it’s a carnival.
Here in well-behaved Canada the system seems way overkill, but i can see how we have to use a system that would stand up in any banana republic or it just wouldn’t be worth the candle. So try dreaming up a system where you can track voters by address, and record who voted, what order they voted in and whether or not they voted in advance polls. Now make it all traceable by third parties, weeks from now, but without anyone being able to tell which voters voted for which candidates. Now make it proof against hypothetical unscrupulous voters with pockets full of false ballots, or who want to vote multiple times, or keep certain people from voting, or whatever. I kept thinking of those pictures of third-world elections you see occasionally on the news, with endless line-ups and riots outside and men with guns standing around, and rampant vote-buying and fingers dipped in indelible ink and all that, and i began to see democracy in action as something of a triumph. And, lame as it sometimes is, something worth fighting for if necessary.
Third, election day is an eye like no other on community. Nowhere else in town could one conceivably, in the space of a single day, sit and watch such a varied cross-section of one’s townsfolk come and go. Babies and grandmothers, lifetimers and the newly arrived, all mixed together for a common cause…. It was heartening, really, that all these people cared enough about the common governance to bother to come and vote. That kind of thing has become vanishingly rare these days.
Fourth, working an election is a long, tiring process. We workers went in at 7:30 in the morning to set up and we couldn’t leave, no matter how appealingly the sun shone outside, till all the votes were counted, and counted again, at about 9:00 p.m. But there must be something in it: despite the hours and the repetitive, detail work, several of my fellow voting clerks had been doing it for years — some for decades. As a job, working elections would be deadly. But once every few years … yes, i might be back again. The remuneration (200 bucks for the day) is welcome too.
I had always been a bit curious about how voting looks from the other side of the table, and on Tuesday i came away with a much greater appreciation of and understanding for the process. I could even say i’m grateful to live in a democratic society — something i completely took for granted before today.
Well, okay, maybe i’ll be grateful tomorrow. Right now i’m going to bed.