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Mack Williams: Polling place memories

Mack Williams

 People get reminders to vote in the paper, over the phone, and in person, at the front door. When I voted the other day, I was reminded of my past experiences as a poll worker.
Walking past staked political signs, and with Halloween so recently past, I thought of a politically-themed haunted house in which Dracula’s stake was affixed with a candidate’s political sign. But I will not delve into that twilight, nether-world where the dead (possibly, the “undead” too) have been known to have political preferences and have acted upon them accordingly.
Most voting places (mine too) occupy school gymnasiums, so it might be said that there we participate in a sort of “Calisthenics of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
My eyes having been treated outside by the striking colors (mostly three) and geometry (mostly square) of the candidates’ signs, my entering nose was then feted by the aroma of simmering chili beans in a crock pot.
This brought back memories of my mid-20s through early 40s in Yanceyville, when I worked as a poll judge, and later as registrar.
Like George Washington, crossing the Delaware River under cover of darkness, we set up our “booths of democracy” before dawn.
Those old wooden ballot boxes (for paper ballots) sort of reminded me of groundhog “Have-a-heart-traps,” or that box in which Senor Wences’ bearded, disembodied “head-friend” always had a positive outlook, because when asked, he always replied “S-s-s-aright!”
Our polling place started out in the kitchen of the “Ag” (Agricultural Extension) Building, and was later re-located to the kitchen of the Caswell County Civic Center as per my mother-in-law Doris Moore during her tenure as Chairman of the Board of Elections.
Both places were very clean, but the cockroach is no respecter! When we switched on the lights, they scurried in negative response (like some monarchs’ reaction to the Age of “Enlightenment!”).
The reason chili beans stirred my memories of being a poll worker has nothing to do with the human digestive system’s processing of chili beans, or the fact that politics can sometimes be quite “smelly.”
The ladies working the polls then (and evidently now, too) brought crock pots from home containing chili beans, chili mac, soups, etc. for their fellow poll workers to enjoy. They also brought home-cooked pies and cakes. I’m not being sexist in saying that only the ladies did this; but during my tenure, not one male poll worker ever showed up with a crock pot!
With our election duties requiring no real physical labor, plus the requirement that we be confined to the building; there we sat on the first Tuesday in November, like turkeys getting fattened up for later that month (but thankfully, the analogy ends there).
One Election Board chairman instructed that if a prospective voter only made a gesture with the hand or grunt with the voice, that could be counted as a vote, as long as it could be tied to the choosing of a specific candidate. And you know, that gives us some evolutionary credit for having hands instead of fins (earlier ancestors) to work with.
But I’m at a loss for words when it comes to grunts.
As a poll worker, you got see someone “you hadn’t seen in a month of Sundays,” and sometimes those “you hadn’t seen in a year of Sundays” (if they had re-registered).
My mind, flooded with poll memories, I still managed to keep my “voting wits” about me and voted.
Getting back into my car, I looked up and saw “all eyes were upon me!” These weren’t really eyes, but instead, the cross sections of nearby trimmed tree branches which appeared to be “looking” in my direction, the cut stem parts mimicking the whites and pupils of eyeballs.
The only “watching eyes” within the voting cubicle match the DNA of the “marking fingers.”

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