This morning, I was awoken an hour earlier than I wanted. You see, yesterday I had to be up by 7:00am to get to my polling station at 8:00am. But when it was all over, I forgot to reset my alarm back to its usual time.
I’ve participated in several elections, not just as a voter, but working on election day. I volunteered a couple of times for a candidate, working as scrutineer. But the last time I acted as scrutineer, I looked closely at the job done by the staff at the polling station, and I decided that I could do that. And unlike working for a candidate, I would get paid.
I won’t comment much on the outcome of yesterday’s provincial election. So far, among my Facebook friends, there has been precious little discussion about yesterday’s surprise result, of a Liberal majority. Clearly, most Ontarians didn’t much care for Tim Hudak’s brand of “Tea Party conservatism”. In my riding of Kingston and the Islands, although there was a noticeable lack of red lawn signs, 40% of the population still supported the Liberal candidate, with the Conservative candidate coming in third behind the NDP.
For those unfamiliar with the election process in Canada, here’s a short description. When you arrive at the polling station, you are met by a greeter who directs you to the appropriate table. If you have your voters card, the greeter will direct you to your poll, which is staffed by two people: a deputy returning officer (DRO) and a poll clerk (PC). The DRO sits with the ballot box and checks your identification. The PC finds your name on the voters list at crosses it off. The DRO instructs you on the process and tears off a your ballot. You take it behind a “voting screen” (actually little more than a cardboard box, but large enough to allow you to vote in privacy), and you mark your choice. You then show your folded ballot to the DRO and then you drop the ballot in the ballot box.
Yesterday, I worked as a DRO and Sylvana was my PC, the first time we did that as a team. This was my second time working as DRO, but the first time I worked through the entire 14 hour day. In the last provincial election, I signed up too late and on election day, I started off on the reserve list. However, at noon I was called to the polling station in Barriefield to replace a DRO whose car got totaled in an accident in the parking lot and was too distraught to continue.
It’s a long hard day for all the polling station workers. The greeter, in particular, is on her feet for the whole time. But I can tell you that sitting for 12 hours isn’t fun either. By 9:00pm, everyone is exhausted, but that’s when the most important job starts: Opening the ballot box, counting the ballots, and recording the results. But the instructions are clear and explicit, which makes the job easier. Fortunately, our totals balanced at the end of the evening. Savvy poll workers know they can ensure a clean count at the end by occasionally cross-checking the voters list with ballots remaining during the day. That way, problems can be identified early if they crop up.
Why should you consider working at a polling station? I’m sure there are lots of reasons people do it. For young people, it’s a way of gaining experience. And yesterday, there were a few of them at our polling station. One DRO was 18, in fact. For others, it’s a way to augment their income. For some, it’s a chance to get out and meet your neighbors, if you work a poll close to home.
But although it sounds hokey, I think many of us do it to serve the public, and participate in the democratic process in a very concrete manner. Along with the necessary training, you can see clearly how the process works. Although there are many steps to the process, you can see how things work close up. You get to understand the reasons behind the steps, and you can be certain that the process operates in a fair manner, with all the necessary checks and balances. Although I’m sure most people have their own opinions about which candidate should win, the vast majority of election workers are committed to following the rules in a totally unbiased manner to ensure a fair election.
To summarize, by all means, do go out and participate in the process, either by working at a polling station, or by volunteering as a scrutineer. You can see for yourself how the democratic process works in Canada.
As for me today, I’m going back to bed.