The line to vote at my polling place in Brooklyn, N.Y. was two and a half hours long. I don’t live in a swing state with massive turnout, and there was no hotly contested local election or ballot initiative. While many New Yorkers are suffering the after effects of Hurricane Sandy, fortunately, my polling place was unscathed. The multistep process of checking in, voting, and getting the ballot electronically scanned wasn’t what made the line drag. The problem, to put it bluntly, was the sweet old ladies manning the polls. God bless these women for volunteering, but it’s clear: If young people really want to protect voters, they should volunteer as poll workers.
At my polling place, it took two elderly ladies, in tandem, two to three minutes to find each voter’s name in the rolls, write down the pertinent information, and have each voter sign. The actual voting booths were virtually empty because it took each voter so long to get through the bottleneck at check-in. The line management was terrible, and no information being given to the hundreds of people waiting outside in the cold or to organize and streamline the process.
Several poll workers were sitting around, starting into space. The voters on either side of me in line both bailed after an hour, saying that they’d try later. I asked if people who didn’t want to wait could just cast a provisional ballot, and a poll worker told me she didn’t know.
Of course, poll volunteers aren’t experts in line management, nor are they brought on because they’re speedy with a pen. They’re brought on because they have the time and inclination to volunteer—and so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many volunteers are retirees. But couldn’t we back them up with some plucky, fast-moving young people?
After all, college students and young people with flexible schedules are already out in force volunteering for both campaigns. And with unemployment near 8 percent, surely retirees aren’t the only people with their days free! Rather than showing enthusiasm by knocking on doors the day of election, how about ensuring a smooth process for the people who are actually voting? Long lines are a serious barrier for full participation, so idealists can see it as an act of social justice. You even get paid.
And while Election Day isn’t a holiday for federal or state employees—or for pretty much anyone who isn’t an autoworker—there is one group of state employees who might be available. If you’re a teacher, why not take your grading day off and run the polls? You already know all about line management and dealing with grumpy, impatient people.
Heck, by the time my two-and-a-half hour wait ended this morning, I’d have been happy to let Occupy Wall Street run the voting stations—after witnessing their massively well-organized relief efforts being coordinated for Sandy victims I’d take a bunch of charming anarchist hippies over good-intentioned but tortoise-paced old people any day.
When I left the polling place, the line was about five times as long as it was when I got there. For all of you still waiting in line at MS 51 in Park Slope, I recommend you take advantage of Gov. Cuomo's declaring emergency voting at any polling location, and jump the line to ask for a provisional ballot. And before the next election, sign up to volunteer. That’s an even better way to effect change.