Thursday, October 27, 2011


This week I’ve been doing prep work for our state election being held on Tuesday, November 1 in Colorado. Most counties in Colorado (all but four) are holding a “mail ballot only” election. Ballots were mailed out just over two weeks ago, and have to be received at the county no later than 7:00PM on election day. If you are a Colorado voter and would like to check whether or not your ballot was received, go to this site and enter your voter information.  (Scroll halfway down the page to the “Mail-in Ballot Stage Information” area.) It’s a good way to ensure the United States Postal Service did its job!

I work as an “Election Judge.” That’s a lofty way of saying I help process incoming ballots. It’s not glamorous work, but needs to be done. I like to think I’m helping make sure our elections are fair and accurate.

The specific work I’m doing this time around could be characterized as “sanitizing” the ballots. Ballots come in with a signature that is verified against the legal documents the county has on file for the voter. I’m with a team whose job is to remove the ballot from its signed envelope and ensure the secrecy of that ballot.

We check for anything that might soil the ballot or make it ambiguous to the scanning equipment. We also look for any identifying marks that would allow the ballot to be traced back to a specific voter. If the voter writes something on the ballot that might identify him or her in some way, we flag the ballot so that it gets a duplicate made that does not have any identifying marks.

As you might imagine, we have a “dual control” process at work, where members of both the Democratic and Republican parties are engaged in this activity so that voter intent is preserved. We take an oath to protect the privacy of the election results and the information of our voters. On my team, I am the designated Republican, along with two Democrats.

In the interest of keeping “peace in the family,” each team is cautioned to refrain from engaging in any political discussions. However, since the days are long and the work is tedious, that rule sometimes is violated. For whatever reason, my team was quite interested in determining my political beliefs. It was as if I had been released from captivity, and my credentials needed to be checked.

My other team members were older women, one a retired teacher and the other a housewife who sells artwork on the side. I’ll refer to them as “RT” and “HW.” At one point, the conversation became quite feisty:

“So what kind of a Republican are you?” asked HW. “Are you one of those TeaBaggers?

“I guess I would identify with the Tea Party in many ways,” I replied. “I’m for limited government.”

“How about voting for President?” inquired RT. “Which of the Republican primary candidates are you for?”

I like Sarah Palin, actually,” I said. “She celebrates the Constitution. I like that.”

“Well, she quit. You would waste your vote,” said HW.

“I guess I’d vote for Herman Cain, then. He seems to be the one who would be less of a conventional politician.”

“I don’t know about that,” said HW. “Herman Cain is financed by the Koch brothers.”

“I think that might be inaccurate,” I countered, trying to be charitable.

“Well, we certainly need to do something,” said HW. “All the bankers should be in jail. And the oil companies, all they want to do is pollute our water with their fracking!”

“And the rich don’t want to pay their fair share.” said RT. “We’ve got to tax the rich.”

I tried to explain that taxing the rich wouldn’t offset the spending of the federal government. We’d have to increase the income taxes of “the rich” by 50%, and that just wouldn’t be possible.

But my words fell on deaf ears. I had underestimated the raw power of the Democratic Party in getting its message out. These were not fringe elements of the party. They were dedicated, conscientious people who held a committed point of view. The star power of our president was on display, as well as the segmentation of our populace into those who were well-intended versus those who were mean-spirited. It was eye-opening.
I bring up this incident to point out the difficulty of the “Paul Revere” effect. People who are trying to warn our culture of impending problems are largely ignored. Thankfully, we have the ability to pull back from cataclysm just in the nick of time.

The other bit of good news is that the explanations of our reality are getting better. Here is an NPR interview of New York University law professor Richard Epstein on PBS:

And here, just for fun, is a Herman Cain advertisement. How can you not like this guy?

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