Culver City Observer -

Poll Dancing in Culver City


April 21, 2016

When I was a little girl, my mother would take me into the voting booth with her. There'd be three or four people sitting at a table with voter lists. We called them "Cake Ladies". Every election, they'd be sitting there with cakes in front of them.

Last Tuesday, I was one of them. I'd volunteered to be a poll inspector in the general municipal election.

Training for about 100 people took two hours.

"Listen, First-timers: You'll love it!" the trainer said, then asked how many people had worked at elections for 5 years. A quarter of the room stood up. 10 years? A third of the room stood. 20 years? A few. 25 years? Three people stood!

"Be friendly. Make it enjoyable for our voters". Our mission was to make it a friendly experience for culver city.

We were told never to ask for ID. "Be culturally sensitive, considerate to people with disabilities." They threatened us: "Insensitive poll workers will be removed."

"Do not turn anybody away. If they turn up and want to vote, give them a provisional ballot".

"Do not look at the voter's choice. We don't want calls saying, 'I gave my ballot and they peeked at it.' Every ballot had a gray secrecy cover. A ballot is naked without it. No peeking. Don't do that".

Two workers were to drive directly to city hall with the ballots. "Do not stop and eat. Do not go home to shower." The law requires that two people stay with the ballots at all times, protecting the chain of custody. Martin Cole, the City Clerk, told a story from 20 years earlier; some workers were driving ballots to city hall when the car trunk opened. "They kept finding remnants of ballots in the street. Be sure to close your trunk."

We had magic green sheets: "What to do if..." 9 terrific pages covering emergencies.

Martin Cole: "Yours is a fundamental role in our democracy. We really appreciate your service to our community."

Trainer: "If anyone's disorderly, call 911, then the City Clerk. Do not engage the dog."

We were ready!

Election Day

6:30 Everyone was there: Esther, David, Joan and me. I administered our loyalty oath.

7:00 I had to go outside and announce the polls were open. One man showed up immediately.

We noticed the black pens in the voting booths were disappearing. I decided to make small signs: "Please, leave pens in booth." I added "Thank you!" and drew a box around it in pink highlighter, hoping it looked friendly. It worked.

We gave every voter a little "I voted" sticker with a flag. They loved it! Dilemma: a voter wanted a second sticker for his daughter. Was it legal, since she hadn't voted?

Oh, the power! I made a strict decision. "I'll tell you what: You're the one who voted; you can give yours to her." He did, she smiled. Win-win.

Anna Diamond came in, anxious about a voting scam: She gets election mail at her address in someone else's name. She's lived there for 56 years and never heard of the person, so she worried about voter fraud. I reported it to Jeremy Green, the Deputy City Clerk who'd done a great job organizing poll workers.

When Jonathan Blank and Colby Devitt came to vote, they were passionate about this election being held on the wrong day. "It should have been on primary day, when more people vote. It would save the city money and increase voter turnout."

We couldn't find Penny Rodriguez's name in the voters' roster, so I gave her a pink provisional ballot. Her vote would be counted, after ballot people at city hall checked her registration.

A young voter was astonished she'd have to use a pen to mark choices on the ballot. "Wow, this is really old school."

"No pregnant chads here," I told her.

When it slowed, the workers got to know each other. Esther, a sweet senior, had volunteered for 20 years. "It's tough getting here at six in the morning, and it's a long day, 13 hours. But I haven't missed one in years. I enjoy it!" She added, "Most people are very pleasant, and it's a joy when they bring the young kids in."

David, 78, came here from Korea in the late 70's. Now a U.S. citizen, I asked why he volunteered. "I thought, 'Maybe I can see how the election system is going on in the U.S."

The whole day went so quickly, at one point I realized I didn't even know what time it was. It could have been four-thirty; it could have been two o'clock. I checked: 3:00pm. Still five more hours.

At quiet times, Joan read James Patterson; David was reading Mongolian and Chinese history in the 1300's, in Chinese; Esther scanned a UCLA health newsletter. "I save them up all year to read here."

culver city did so much to make the election fair. No voter was turned away; if we had questions, we could give them a provisional ballot (to be validated later). Signs were clear. No one had to show an ID. If a voter were unhappy, there was an info sheet with a number they could call. I don't think the city closed any polling places to make it harder for people to vote. I thought of how they trained us to be sensitive. Like most airplanes, double systems for safety were built in. Everything was sealed at the right times. The culver city election people deserve compliments.

I wondered if the city's slogan should be "culver city voting - it's not Arizona."

Martin Cole and Jeremy Green came to check on things, bringing snacks and bottled water. They'd spent the whole day visiting every precinct and putting out fires; they were so friendly, but looked as tired as we felt. We were grateful for the snacks. Now I knew why the cake ladies were always eating; you need energy to get through a 15-hour workday.

I was surprised at how happy people were to vote. It wasn't a stop-Trump thing; it was true democracy in action.

I felt impressed, too, by how many people thanked us; they knew we were essentially volunteering. This must be what a soldier feels when people thank them. A lot of people handed in ballots, saying, "Thank you for your service." They seemed to understand that we were putting in long hours so they could vote.

"It's sad," a late voter commented before leaving. "It's a shame they don't combine elections, because it really wastes taxpayer money." Then our last voter: "Thank you guys for doing this, I appreciate it."

8:00 pm I announced the polls were closed. It took us an hour and a half to count, sign, and seal everything.

We were down to two precinct workers and me. Esther was dear; David was Herculean. We packed the three voting booths; the disabled booth; the six-foot-tall collapsible multilingual voter's rights triptych kiosk; the white box; the red box; the clear ballot security envelope; the pink provisional ballots; the purple return envelopes; the green emergency pages; the voters roster; the three street indexes; the stationery supplies; the sample ballots; the demonstration ballots; and the multi-lingual signs. After our fifteen-hour day, David carried it all out to his car. We got into the car, and only then saw the second kiosk still standing intact on the path to the voting room. We collapsed and packed that, too. Everything condensed neatly into boxes.

Next, we had to deliver it all to city hall. Traffic cones and election workers were waiting; I got out and stood there down to nothing but the red box and the green stripe envelope.

Election Night

I stayed to see what happened next. The large counting room at city hall was whirring. The ballots went into a machine like the ones that count dollar bills at the bank. The big screen told all the totals for each candidate by precinct. Martin Cole supervised, announcing every so often, "I see the City Attorney" or "I see the former Mayor".

This was not the smoke-filled rooms of election lore; it was a crowd of iPhones in the audience sending results to friends the minute each precinct's ballots were counted. Everything was transparently electric. People clustered in twos and threes; the ambience was folksy camaraderie, despite people's being there for competing candidates. Martin Cole announced final results; there were 4,057 ballots. This would increase once provisional and mail ballots were counted.

It was time to go home. No cake ladies in sight.


©Carole Bell 2016 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

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