Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Impartial on Election Day

It was a long day in Anthony and the nearby townships of Chaparral, Vado, and Chamberino.

When I cast my own vote in Luna County, my mind held strong preferences about the outcome of the midterm elections. Then I had a long drive, over an hour through the desert hills, to release those preferences and focus on my job.

In the polling places, there are election clerks with an important job. They make sure the voters who turn up are registered, equip them with ballots, and make sure those ballots are handled in the proper way. There are also challengers hanging around. They work for the political parties. They are allowed to challenge voters if they see evidence of an impropriety.

Sometimes, there are also non-partisan observers. That was my job as a volunteer with Count Every Vote New Mexico. My job, similar to what I did in 2008, was to observe the process. I had been trained in the state's election laws and electoral process, shown how to handle certain situations that might interfere with a person's right to vote. My clipboard contained information on the rights of voters, the text of the state's election laws, phone numbers of our group's attorneys and the county clerk's office, and in the pocket of my suitcoat there was a camera in case I needed photographic evidence of anything. Oh yes, and a cell phone which I barely know how to use.

Happily, it was a pretty dull day. I filed reports on minor polling place problems. No one lost their vote, the challengers were not overzealous, there was no improper electioneering, and no intimidation at the places I visited. I observed a couple of challenges and watched the process. Same with a few spoiled ballots. The rules were followed. Everyone got to cast a ballot (and regular ballots, not the uncertain provisional ballots). Poll workers were well trained, and everyone was cheerful and civil.

Instead of churning the desired outcomes over in my head, wondering about the results of the election and what they meant, checking my opinions throughout the day, I spent the day intensely focused on the process itself. Because I was inside the polling place itself and was there as a non-partisan, it would not have been appropriate to discuss my opinions about the campaigns or my political preferences. So I didn't, and it was very refreshing to be unplugged from that.

It was a day of service. The election clerks and presiding judges I observed did their jobs beautifully, welcoming voters and assisting them generously. In a slightly different capacity, that's what I prepared for as well, if a voter became confused, had questions, or was turned away improperly. Happily, it was an uneventful watch.

[Top photo: Welcome to Anthony, the New Mexico/Texas border line.]

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