When this posts at 6 a.m., the team of election officers of which I am a part will most likely be checking in our first voter in the party primary elections in Virginia. I’ve been part of the election process for several years, having served initially as a “regular” worker, than as the tech assistant, then assistant chief, and, for several elections recently, as chief election officer. As such, today I visited the precinct where I’ll be tomorrow, an elementary school in Arlington, to meet the building custodian and ensure that the building will be open at 5 a.m. It takes us every minute of that hour between 5 and 6 to prepare the site and be ready for the first voter. I also picked up from the election headquarters this afternoon the poll books and ballots, which are now safely in our kitchen. Leaving them in the car overnight is prohibited.
Before I started working as an election officer, I volunteered for one of the parties on election days. My first volunteer experience was to do something they called flushing, which involved going door to door in apartment buildings urging people to vote and to vote for the candidates of the party for which I was working. It was most unrewarding and largely a waste of time. The few people that were home were either not registered or expressed zero interest in the election. Some were angry, shockingly so, about answering a knock on the door. It was not my cup of tea.
In two more elections, I drove people to the polls. Each party offers this service. People who need a ride request such from the party, and volunteers work from lists picking up people and taking them to vote and then back home. In the course of the day on each of the two occasions when I did this I was able to take about 10 people to their polling place. I remember one election day getting my last person to her polling place seconds before the polls closed. I was really concerned about what her reaction would be if I hadn’t been able to get her there in time. Then, after voting, she needed to stop at the grocery store on the way home. This was more rewarding than flushing, but I decided this too wasn’t my cup of tea.
I began working as an election officer after I picked up a trifold about it when voting one day. I have found that rewarding. I’m much more attuned to working in a non-partisan role, even though I do have strong party leanings and candidate preferences. I was this way when on Senate staff for 22 years, in a non-partisan position. I knew I was getting it right because the partisan staff in both parties were always saying that I was favoring the other.
The choices within the parties are not as extreme in today’s primaries as the choices will be in November after the party nominees for President are decided. No matter who the party nominees are the November election will be a contest between two Americas. Passions are already high. Honest elections in which the people have confidence are the only alternative to violent means of transferring political power. It takes a small army of volunteers across the country to make that happen. It is an honor and a privilege to be one of them.
I close with the prayer “For an Election” from the Book of Common Prayer. “Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 1-March-2016.