Rarely have the skills I gained through twenty years of leading a drama team proven useful at my City Hall job. This month, however, my two worlds collided as I’ve assisted with training the 54 voting officials who will be on duty October 22.
Sitting there handing out ballots all day and collecting a nice paycheque at the end probably looks like a pretty cushy job. But given that our workers will put in a 14-hour day as well as the two hours of training (not counting homework), their rate of pay works out to $10 - $15 an hour.
And as far as ease goes, workers must familiarize themselves with eleven different forms. Would you believe thirteen separate envelopes are needed to divide various components, including: Accepted Ballots, Spoiled Ballots, Declined Ballots, Discarded Ballots, Unused Ballots, Rejected Ballot objected to, and Rejected Ballots not objected to. All of this to ensure no inaccuracies occur, all ballots are accounted for, and each elector has opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote.
My task was to stage a mock election so our workers could practice correct procedures. I created fake ballots and, like writing a dramatic script, came up with a variety of scenarios that could arise. We assigned two people to be voting officials and another to play scrutineer. The others were each handed a slip of paper revealing their name and address and their situation or instructions. They played their roles with the dedication of Broadway actors.
First of all, the straight-forward situation. John Q. Public turns out to vote, announces his name and address. Sure enough, he’s on the voters’ list. His name is crossed off and entered into the voting record. He’s given his ballots, he checks off his choices, his ballots go into the ballot box. Easy.
But suppose someone isn’t on the list because he wasn’t home when enumerators came? Suppose he carries no I.D? Suppose he’s unwilling to sign an oath? Suppose an eligible voter is blind or illiterate or doesn’t speak English? Suppose someone’s identity is challenged? Suppose someone owns land in the municipality but doesn’t actually live in it? Suppose someone takes a ballot but then chooses to decline, announcing he doesn’t like any of the candidates? Suppose someone accidentally spoils his ballot and would like a new one?
At the end of the day, workers must correctly assess the ballots. Suppose someone wrote his own name on it, spoiling the secrecy of the ballot? Suppose someone voted for seven councilors when he’s only supposed to vote for six or fewer? Suppose someone placed his “X” between two names and it’s unclear whom he voted for?
Election officials must know how to handle each case according to the regulations laid out in the Municipal Councils and School Boards Elections Act, how to correctly tally all the votes and confirm everything balances. Their job includes calling the Election Officials with the results for their own poll, sealing the ballot box, and returning it to City Hall.
At the close of our mock voting, workers went through the tally procedure and discovered we had elected Minnie Mouse for Mayor (over Elmer Fudd and Donald Duck). Our councilors of choice were Mel Gibson, Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Harrison Ford. (Now wouldn’t we suddenly see a lot more “concerned citizens” attending Council meetings?)
When you vote on October 22, I hope you can now better appreciate the time and effort required to make an election happen. You may be surprised to know the voters list is created from scratch every election, so if enumerators missed you, you won’t appear on the list even if you lived at the same address for many years. Please don’t feel offended if officials ask for I.D. and have you sign an oath. They didn’t write the rules, but are duty-bound to uphold them. They do a great job serving their community.