Tuesday, June 03, 2014

please be kind on election day

Three years ago, I took a job as a Deputy Returning Officer for Elections Ontario. I'd read a post by Zoom about how she worked during one election and it intrigued me. At that time, I was mostly pushing myself to step outside my comfort zone

Fast forward to June 2014. It turns out that while it feels like much too soon for another election, three years is enough to forget - much like childbirth - the agony of 18 hours of pain, anxiety and boredom.

So I'm doing it again.

Last week I went to the mandatory training session. It turns out that only some of the candidates and the Returning Office have changed. We were given the same materials, shown the same videos and the training was delivered by the same people. The only difference was that since the last viewing, I have coincidentally met some of the actors (all from Ottawa) used in the video.

The Deputy Returning Officer is responsible for setting up the poll, handing out and keeping track of ballots, monitoring the vote and counting the ballots at the end of the evening. There are many, many details involved and quite a bit of responsibility (including determining the validity of ballots at the end of the evening) and yet almost anyone can get hired to do the job. They don't ask for any information from applicants except address, contact information and confirmation that you are over 18.

I imagine it's possible that someone from Elections Ontario does a quick background check but that's really it. If you've ever marvelled at the incompetence of election day staff, it's because there is absolutely nothing done to weed anyone out. And they still have a hard time attracting enough people.

Part of the problem could be the amount of work relative to the wages. The Information Assistants (the only workers who don't have to be of legal voting age) are paid $13/hour just for greeting people at the door. I worked it out and I think I'll only be getting a few cents more than that. There are no breaks and the whole poll has to close every time I go to the bathroom (I'd better time my bladder to need tending during the quiet hours).

The thing I'm the most concerned about is spending the great bulk of my time (14 hours or so) sitting by the Poll Clerk (the person who finds voters on the lists of electors and crosses them off). This person might be perfectly innocuous or even lovely but if not...it makes for an even longer day. Last time, I worked with a university student who was nice enough but kept taking longer and longer "bathroom breaks." At what point do you take someone on about less than acceptable behaviour when you have to keep working with them?

You might well be asking yourself why I'm bothering to do this at all. Consider it my contribution to the electoral process. I've complained enough over the years that it feels good to be doing my part. I did enjoy getting glimpses of friends and neighbours on voting day. And, if I'm not too tired to remember anything, it can be great inspiration for writing.

Tim thinks that people are so irritated about going to the polls that voter turnout will be low. I worry that voters will show up to the polls and take out the irritation on elections staff. Either way (and even if things go well), I'll likely regret my decision some time during the day.

And on June 13 and likely for a few days after that, I plan on being exhausted.


Anonymous said...

I ALWAYS make a point of thanking the Elections staff... and once or twice I've been delighted to hear them thank me back - for coming out!


laurie said...

That's excellent! And a good reminder to be as positive and pleasant as possible. People generally respond in kind.

Catherine said...

You are so good to do it, Laurie. I'll make a point to be friendly to the polling staff when I drop in. Tonight is the local candidate debate, so I'm looking forward to that - see who says what about health care!

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