Come hell or high water, I was going to be a poll worker today. Neither hell nor high water came to Pasadena, but I stayed home after all.
Since childhood when I accompanied my parents to the polling booth, voting’s been important to me. It seemed nearly a sacred right in my family, a privilege of living in the U.S. never to be taken lightly. When our sons were infants, Mark and I carried them with us into the voting booth at a red brick church in Ohio. This year, when I no longer have a day job, I volunteered to work the polls. No matter that it would be a 15 or 16 hour day. I’d muscle through it. People close to me raised their eyebrows and asked if I were sure. “Oh, yes. I’ll be fine.” I was going to make it fine, no matter what. I’d imagined myself as a poll worker for years. This was my chance!
Yesterday, I brushed up my memory with an on-line poll worker training course. As if it were an on-line DMV class to remove points from my driver’s license, I sped through one section after another. I began to be disturbed, though, as I connected my tender back to video images of poll workers kneeling, lifting, bending over and reaching while they assembled voting equipment at the polling station on Election Day. After the polls closed, the same workers disassembled the voting equipment, counted ballots, and closed up shop. In between, they sat on metal folding chairs for nearly 13 hours. I began to worry, but stuck to my story: I am going to work the polls. Stubbornness was still winning.
I dressed for a doctor’s appointment and chose flip-flops, which meant my toe nails needed another coat of polish. Oops. Three hours later, when my back was still hurting just from having stretched a little to reach my toes, wisdom finally conquered stubbornness. If I couldn’t even reach my toes without inflaming my back, how could I do all that bending, reaching, stretching, lifting and sitting that I’d watched in the training video? I’d have to be taken out on a gurney. I called the polling inspector for my precinct and bowed out.
At breakfast this morning, Election Day, I thanked God not only for oatmeal and coffee, but for the country in which we live, the liberty to choose our leaders and disagree with each other, the right and privilege to vote, and the community of a civil, civic society. I prayed for all those running for office, their families, staff and volunteers; for the poll workers, and as always, asked for strength for the day. Then Mark and I drove to the poll and cast our ballots. I thanked a poll worker for what she was doing and said that a bad back kept me from working the poll today. She smiled and, in a gift of grace, said, “It happens to all of us, sweetie. Next time!” I came home and walked the dogs.
I’m still praying periodically for all of us as we exercise this great privilege and right to vote and have our votes treated with care, respect, and honesty. As my father used to say, “People have died to gain and keep this right, how can we not show our gratitude for their sacrifice by casting our ballot to carry it forward?” Even if I couldn’t be a poll worker today, I still voted. I hope you’re voting, too.
Learning: Sheer stubbornness can be important, but being wise is even more so.