Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Days of wrath, innit? Oh, well.

I'm going to be a pollwatcher here in Bellefonte, unless I get run over or otherwise discommoded between now and election day. Part of the 72 hour volunteer thing, don'tchaknow.

What’s a pollwatcher, you ask? It’s a relatively new innovation in the science of political busybodying. The traditional partisan line of attack on Election Day is to place people outside the no-electioneering limits of the precincts, to hand out literature, recommend candidates, and generally pester the public. Someone figured out, in this, our new millennium, that if a body has managed to drag him or herself to the polls, they’ve already made some sort of decision as to who they want at the top of the ticket, if not further down the list with the Attorney Generals, Treasurers, Recorders of Deeds, and Dogcatchers. So, from a presidential-election point of view, pestering folks on the way to the polls is *not* the way to maximize your vote turnout. You irritate your own supporters, who know their own damn minds, thank you very goddamn much, putz, and enrage your opponent’s voters, who probably hate your partisan ass anyways.

So, they decided to put the volunteers to some other task, which was more likely to get votes added. A pollwatcher is a state-certified observer of the precinct for a particular party or candidate. Each party and candidate gets so many certificates for each precinct. We’re going to be standing there, behind the judges of election, listening with pen poised while they read off who’s come to vote. We’ll have lists - hopefully accurate! - of Republicans in the precinct, which we’ll strike off as they come to vote. Every once in a while, some other activists will come by to pick up the list of those who haven’t made it in yet, and tote it off to central call centers. There, volunteers will be calling and bugging the missing Republicans, asking them if they’re planning to vote, offering rides to the precinct, when can we expect you, etc. Then they’ll send out the drivers to pick up those who need rides, and so on. Repeat every couple of hours until the polls close. For those people who plan to vote later in the day, fair warning - you’re going to get pestered by the local volunteer hordes until you show up and get your name struck from the pollwatchers’ tally.

The pollwatchers, of course, have another purpose - the one that used to be their primary function, and which will be of fairly high importance in those parts of the country where the registration schmucks have been kicking up mud and making a mess of things. If there’s any irregularities with a voter, we’re supposed to register an objection. Namely, we recognize that the voter isn’t who he says he is, or it’s the third time today that this woman’s been in to vote, or “I saw that name on a gravestone up in Union Cemetary”, or whatever. I’m not to expect that sort of thing in Bellefonte, but there’s an outside chance of something happening in State College, and they’re fairly certain that it’s going to be a lively November 2nd in Philadelphia, where there’s more registered voters than living adults in the census estimate.

At the close of polls, the pollwatcher hangs around to observe the judges of election open up the ballot-box, count the spoiled ballots, count the contents of the ballot-box, add the two sums together, and make sure that everything adds up. Then, we wait while they count. And count. And count. The lady from Centre Hall says that this usually takes until at least 11 PM, and probably will go later this year, given all the new voters and such. Finally, when they’re done with the count, we’re supposed to call in the totals to the people at the campaign offices, and watch them truck off the ballot-box to the county offices over on Willowbank. Yay.

They were talking about getting a watcher in every precinct in the county, until the guy-in-charge clarified that they weren't talking about precincts like Curtin West, which apparently consists of "thirteen voters, twelve of them hard-core Democrats". Could you imagine sitting in a pissed-off-partisan-someone's parlor for fourteen hours, clutching your pollwatching certificate, while you wait for said pissed-off-partisan-someone's dozen or so relatives to drift through to make their votes? If Curtin West consists of the "town" I'm thinking of, it's basically a half-block of ruinous student slum dumped at the bottom of a heavily wooded ravine way the hell up the Allegheny Plateau at the end of a logging road. It's as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get on this side of the Mississippi. Someone noted that they didn't think it would be "safe" to send a pollwatcher up there. I think they were half-joking.

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