Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary 2008

You may have heard that there was a primary election in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. As I've done for the last couple of years, I worked as a Machine Inspector here in Haverford Township, Delaware County, just outside of Philadelphia. The main interest, of course, was the Democratic Presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Although our precinct is very heavily Republican, most of our voters were Democrats. Some of them were very obvious in their preferences. One woman came up to me and asked, very loudly, "Where do I vote for Hillary?" I said, "In the voting booth." While she was in the booth, she called out to me, "Who are these other people? I don't know who they are." I figured out that she was referring to candidates for state offices like Attorney General or State Treasurer. I told her that the offices people were running for were printed on the screen. She asked what she should do about those, so I told her she could vote for those offices or not, as she liked. She decided that she only cared about voting "for Hillary".
We still have people who are confused by the electronic voting machines, even though they've been in use here for two and a half years, that is, five elections. Some people insist that we're using different kinds of machines every time. I tell them that the only things that really change are the offices and the names on the ballot. The use of the machine is the same each time. I realize that some voters are new, but they're usually not the ones who seem confused by the machines. Often, if a voter approaching the machine seems to have a confused or apprehensive look, I'll ask if they want me to show them how to use the machine before they vote. The ones who try my patience the most are the ones who insist that, no, they don't need any help; they've done it before. Then, they go into the booth and say, "Oh, this looks different." and then they want help, at which point, I can only talk to them through the curtain, or ask them to step out so I can show them on a sample ballot.
Because it was a primary, we had the usual problems with voters who want to vote for candidates not in their party. We try to explain that, in the primary election, voters can only vote within their registered party, but some people don't like that. They want to do what they want, regardless of party rules or the law, and they get angry at the poll workers, as if it's our fault. Fortunately, I didn't have anyone get angry with me when I asked their party so that I could set the machine properly, as happened in the primary last year. I did have one woman, a Republican, who was in the voting booth with her little girl, who was asking why Mommy wasn't voting for "the girl", at which point, the woman came out of the booth and asked me if she could change her choice of party. I said that, yes, she could do that, but
not at the time she was voting.

We had the usual cases of voters who came to our polling place who didn't know where their polling place was. We could deal with those questions with a single phone call, but it surprises me that people seem unaware that they could make that phone call themselves, or find the information on the internet. In thirty-four years of voting, I have never failed to find out, before Election Day, where my polling place was. I don't think it's that difficult, really.
It was, as always, encouraging to see the first-time voters, often young people, but also some older ones this time. They're usually pretty excited to be voting. I also enjoy the little kids who accompany Mom or Dad into the voting booth. They're usually pretty excited, too. I hope that continues when they are old enough,themselves, to vote. Contrast that with a few voters who, when they found out they couldn't vote in the other party's primary, just left without voting at all. I mean, there are people in this world, and even in our own country, who have fought hard for the right to vote. I don't like to see people casually walk away from that right.
It was a fairly busy day, from 7 AM to 8 PM, and we had only a couple of stretches of "dead time". We ended the day with, I think, 465 voters, a pretty good turnout for a precinct with about 1000 total registered Republicans and Democrats combined, especially in a primary election. I think we must have seen just about every registered Democrat on our rolls. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, and glad I don't have to do that again until November.
I must add one last episode from the night. After I got home, I put on the TV to see election results. Obama had won our precinct by a very narrow margin, and I wanted to see how the state went. At the moment the news people were calling the race for Clinton, a huge sound of celebration erupted from the neighbors down the street. It seemed odd to be hearing very loud, very young, very male voices celebrating this news, then I realized that the Flyers had just beaten the Capitals in overtime to take Game 7 of their playoff series

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