“I’m worried about you,” my sister Peg said. “Are you sure you’ll be safe?” I had just finished telling her I had volunteered to be a poll watcher. Peg has been sipping the cable news Kool Aid a bit. She envisioned me frisked by surly Proud Boys in combat gear looking for stolen votes. Or I could be inadvertently concussed by signs on sticks wielded by angry lib ladies who wanted the government to stay out of the procreation business. I assured her that once I was in the 150-foot perimeter required by Florida law, I’d be safe.
Whatever awaited me, I was ready. Poll watchers, I had learned, are not poll workers. Poll workers work under the demanding eye of the Supervisor of Elections. Their hands are clean and their souls pure, politically speaking. Poll watchers, however, represent a party. They are there to cast an eagle eye over the proceedings and ensure there are no shenanigans. I took a one and half hour Zoom training session put on by the donkey party. I viewed the video explaining how to schedule my shift at a polling place. I learned how to operate lbj.voting, the web-based tool through which I was to inform my party of an ongoing shenanigan. “lbj” stands for “Lawyers Bound for Justice.” Very cool.
Before Election Day I did a 7 AM to 1 PM stint at an early voting location. All was quiet as I approached the door at 6:55, still digesting my toast and peanut butter washed down by a cuppa. Two retired-looking gents with poll worker buttons howdied me genially. I walked in but was promptly turned around and told to go outside by a woman who had polished her charm as a warder at Raeford Penitentiary. I waited until 7:00 when a different woman dressed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt burst out, swung wide the double doors, and shouted into an empty street, “Oyez! Oyez! The polls are now open!” America was officially open for business.
An inspector found my name on his clipboard and stickered me. I asked the Clerk of the polling place, a lady in dark pants and a white blouse, “Can I wander around and look?” She smiled, pointing to two folding metal chairs set against a wall. “You’ll be staying right there.” Shortly, a gentleman representing the opposing team arrived. He was tall, avuncular and business-like. I noted that my folding chair had padding; he was not so fortunate. He had done military service, was an investigator for insurance companies, and was the organizer of a citizens’ watch program in his neighborhood. He lamented crime in America and conflict afoot in the world, but explained that it would all end when the Rapture came. I edged my chair away from him. Our tour of duty was uneventful, save two portly country-club chaps who came to vote polluted. One offered an out-of-date Michigan driver’s license as ID; the other passed muster, went in to vote and screwed up his ballot twice.
On Election Day, at 12:30 PM, I strolled the eight blocks to precinct 123’s polling place, the Coliseum. Every so often I’d look around for signs of tumult. Pretty quiet except for a street dude in Williams Park fried on PCP, muttering F-bombs. Williams Park is awash, so to speak, in undocumented aliens. They are from the planet Zorg.
The Coliseum was built as a dance hall, its architecture a mixed marriage between Italy and Morocco. Opened in November of 1924, it boogied to the foxtrot, the tango, and the Charleston, a “Palace of Pleasures,” according to Tampa Historical. Hot-blooded youth gave way to the Great Depression, and the Coliseum wound up a ward of the state. It is now a “community center,” a bloodless title. My Life’s Editor and I attended one of the last swell blowouts at the Coliseum, the climax of the Festival of States, a week-long extravaganza of high school marching bands. The Largo High School Band of Gold, hundreds strong, burst into the giant ballroom, gleaming trumpets and trombones swinging side to side, applauded by the good and great of St Pete dressed in glam rags. We crowned and enthroned the “Sun Queen,” a virginal 18-year-old, coupled with “Mr. Sun,” a seasoned pillar of the business community. Modern folk are permitted to cringe.
At the required 150 feet from the doors of the voting site, a forest of staked signs had sprouted overnight, each imploring the viewer to cast their vote for Jim Brown or Susan Smith. Once inside I was directed by the Clerk to the metal folding chair that would be my command center for the next six hours. From there I could scrutinize the Clerk’s desk, with the Clerk and her assistant; the registration desk manned by six inspectors; the forty-some voting booths; and the optical scanners that scan and eat the ballots.
The elephant team representative was a woman in her late forties, who had brought a large bag of goodies to fortify her. She owned a housecleaning business, and we chatted about the difficulty of keeping good people, work attitudes today not being what they used to be. Crime, of course, was rampant today, she asserted, New York City being the epicenter. I didn’t point out that NYC has a crime rate a bit below the national average. I didn’t want facts to cloud her thinking.
For hours a steady stream of my fellow Americans came pouring through the doors of the Coliseum. Charles Darwin would have looked up from his work on worms and nodded with satisfaction at the variety of people, in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Voters were calm, focused, and purposeful. Nary a grumble from them or the registrars.
The longest line was at the Clerk’s desk where address and ID issues were resolved. In the lingo of the polling place, ballots were “cured.” Old folks with language issues waited in line at the Clerk’s desk, eyes imploring, doubtful, holding tight to forms provided by the registrars. Students with address issues stood waiting with supportive BFFs, looking at their cell phones. At one point I heard the commotion I had been expecting all day. A young woman had just been handed her ballot by a registrar. She was blushing proudly. Everyone was standing and clapping, applauding a first-time voter.
In their graves, Jefferson and Madison smiled.