Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The cure for what ails me

I’ve been on a blogging break for the last few weeks, the result of a jam-packed personal schedule and also a weariness that has been difficult to shake.

My friends in Wisconsin know the feeling.  For months we have been buried in relentless political messaging—on the Internet, in newspapers, on radio and TV, billboards, yard signs, robo-calls—if it was communication, it was Wisconsin’s corrosive, contentious politics slapping us in the face.  The political divide over who should occupy the governor’s office consumed our daily conversations and put families and the best of friends on edge for fear of saying or doing something that would damage lifelong relationships.  And sometimes the conflict revealed an ugly, dark temperament that would have been better left in the shadows.

Yesterday, I discovered the antidote.  I volunteered as an election inspector (aka poll worker) in my new hometown and found myself awash in everything good about the Wisconsin election and about our local democracy. 

I joined a dozen veteran election volunteers and, as the team’s rookie, did a little of everything—prepared coffee, made sure voters were in the right polling location, registered new voters, gathered voter signatures on poll books, recorded absentee ballots and tried to make sure the voting process went as smoothly as possible.  (My apologies to the man who waited in line for 45 minutes to learn he was at the wrong polling place.)  At the end of the day more than 4,000 voters from the Town of Menasha participated in what can only be described as a Wisconsin election like no other.

What was remarkable given the vitriol of the preceding months was a general attitude that made yesterday an inspired, heartwarming, positive, spirited, unpredictable election day:
  • For every voter who complained about having to wait in a long line there were at least ten who gushed about how important it was to participate, what a pleasure it was to stand in the sunshine, and the merits of patience.
  • The trio of young men who came to the assistance of an elderly gentleman struggling to get out of his car and then to stand in line; how they found a cool place in the shade for the older man to sit while they held his place in line, and the man’s genuine thanks for the kindness of strangers.
  • The enthusiasm and energy of the election volunteers, most of them 60+, who worked a 17-hour day with almost no breaks, taking great pride in ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the vote.  They are my new found heroes.
  • The many young, new voters who made a considerable effort to register and vote on election day, a privilege we are proud to have in Wisconsin, even if it means a trip back home to collect legally acceptable proof-of-residency documents.
  •  A local alderman/friend who jokingly offered to buy me donuts on election day, an inside reference to something that has become known as "donutgate" in this part of the state.
  •  The babies.  I fall completely in love with the infant or toddler who is experiencing the voting process for the first time or is simply napping in mom's arms while she does her civic duty.
  • The spontaneous contests among fellow inspectors to see who could find a voter name in the poll books the fastest.
  • The man named James Michener who lives in my town and other interesting factoids I learned about my new community.
  • The deep appreciation countless voters shared with election inspectors, thanking us for our service.
  • The strangers-turned-friends who told me I did a good job and invited me to return as an inspector in the fall.
  • The absence of conflict.

1 comment:

  1. First, thanks for your service to the electorate. I've often considered doing this in my "semi-retirement", and may consider it more strongly now after reading your account. It was much the same in my township, which is comprised of some fairly affluent people - of all ethnicities - who own their own business or are executives in larger enterprises - and some people who struggle to feed their family every day, who live in the one area of high-density housing in the Township. Scenes similar to the ones you described also played out at my Town Hall polling place: younger people helping the elderly find a place in the shade, as the mid-day sun beat down on the voting line; poll-workers helping young people, who were voting for the first time, to get properly registered with appropriate ID; mothers with toddlers asking complete strangers if they could watch their child for a moment, and hold their place in line, as they took a bathroom break (it was a LONG line!); neighbors greeting each other; good-natured joshing as people walked to the end of the voting line, with friends greeting them and saying things like "oh, boy, they'll let ANYONE vote these days"; and overheard snippets of conversations between people expressing how glad they are that this signals the end of all the nasty TV political ads.
    And through all this, not one complaint about how long the line was - just remarks expressing surprise about how many people turned out to vote.
    If only our politicians could take a lesson from this, and learn that even though we come from many different mindsets and circumstances of life, we truly are all in this together, and we need to be civil to and respectful of each other.