As much as I love Brooklyn, I've come to expect polling-place workers in Kings County to be exemplars of incompetency bordering on corruption. This morning was no different.
Allow me to explain. I showed up at my polling place -- Global Studes, 284 Baltic Street/ Election District: 93 -- at approximately 8:15 a.m. Directly in front of me in line were two people being informed by the poll workers that "If you haven't voted in four years you automatically fall off the rolls." That sounded suspiciously like the explanation offered by the sort of person who is simply incapable of saying "I don't know what happened" and instead makes up an official sounding answer. So I wasn't exactly expecting much.
As luck would have it, I was in the book. So I slide into the voting booth and go to the pull the lever and ... nothing. It doesn't budge. I try again. Out of curiosity I lightly pull on one of the Democratic candidates' levers. That seems to be working fine. I stick my head out of the booth and tell the guy there's a problem. I tell him I'm a registered Republican, at which point he announces to the entire table, "Oh, this guy's a Republican," as if it's been six generations since they've seen such a thing. In fact, one of the other workers says, "A Republican? Really?"
I want to make it clear: This wasn't a case of voter intimidation. It wasn't as if the poll workers said, "Ewwww, is there slime coming out of his butt" or "Oh, so that's what Satan smells like." No, it was more a sound of amazement. I suddenly knew what the Great White Buffalo feels like. That said, I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to announce a voter's affiliation across the polling place. You'd think the Board of Elections would cover that in the classes it gives to poll workers.
So the guy fidgets with the outside of the booth, then comes back and STEPS INTO THE BOOTH WITH ME. "Go ahead and try it now," he says, watching over my shoulder. I reach for the lever and ... nothing. "Hold on," he says, and steps outside of the booth, fiddles with the machine, steps back into the booth and says, "Now try." Lather, rinse, repeat. I suggest maybe the big lever that registers the vote might have to be reset for this to work. At first he says no, but then changes his mind. "Well, we'll just have to throw in a vote," he says.
At this point, he selects Hillary Clinton then pulls the lever. Ka-ching. One more vote for Hillary.
We then try again. Nothing. So he gives me a paper ballot. (As an aside, the outside of the provisional ballot envelope requires that you check a box explaining why you're filling out a paper ballot. Nowhere is there a box to check for "You've obviously hired morons to work the polling station.")
So I filled in the paper ballot and turned it in. When I did so, I asked the gentleman, "So, did that vote register for Hillary Clinton?"
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Don't worry about it. That was my vote."
I bet it was.
I don't assume there are a great deal of Republicans in my district, but how many of their failed votes are going to end up registering for Hillary Clinton?
I'm not sure this borders on outright corruption, but it says something about our system that we can't hire competent people for this task. And there were other people, probably Democrats, being forced to resort to paper ballots. (I wonder if they, too, suspected those paper ballots would never make it to wherever they were supposed to go.)
Still, that I couldn't pull the lever at all for a Republican candidate almost defies belief.
As it so happens, I just did my taxes and, as usual, there's a box asking if I want to fund presidential elections. To be blunt, I don't want my tax dollars advancing the causes of a sleazebag millionaire like John Edwards or a Bible-thumping rube like Mike Huckabee. And people like Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can raise their own damn money if they want to run, thank-you very much. Perhaps that space would be better used to solicit money to attract better-paid poll workers. Granted 200 bucks for a day's work -- the going rate for New York City polling-place workers -- isn't that shabby and I know the Board probably isn't in a position to turn away people, but c'mon.
Hell, it occurred to me that if Brooklyn was using electronic voting machines, disaster would have struck. I know these folks mean well and wake up early and care about their country, but if they can't work a lever system and paper book, I shudder to think what would happen at the first malfunction of supposedly sophisticated software.
So here's where this post at least touches on advertising. To hell with matching funds for presidential candidates, which will go to pay for crappy fast food and bad political ads. Spend the money on attracting and training polling place workers.
Anyway, if Hillary Clinton beats Barack Obama by one vote tonight, you can blame me.