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Got a Barn? Let’s Put on a National Election!
By Cynthia Vance

You make the costumes, I’ll make the sets!…Election Day is nigh, with the spectre of partisan-owned-paper-free-hackable-code machines, and a dwindling pool of poll workers looming. It’s a good time to see Malindi Finkle’s documentary “By The People” (now showing on PBS, check your local listings.) The director and her team traveled to Indianapolis in 2004 and followed a single county’s election – a scene repeated 3033 times in every county of every state every 4 years in Presidential elections. These elections are run, not by the federal government, but by, you guessed it, US… or rather, a very small number of “us” supervised by a handful of county employees. Finkle states: “These teams need nearly two million citizen volunteers in order to function properly; today, however, there is a shortage of 500,000 poll workers nationwide and the average poll worker’s age is 72.” She goes on to ask the obvious question: “How many 90 year olds does it take to make an average age of 72?” Yikes.

This impressive and compelling film is a non-partisan look inside the process of putting on an election, and it ain’t pretty. Our election-day system is becoming as fragile as the Ozone and poll volunteers as endangered as the Spotted Owl.

The film’s fact sheet ( bythepeople-themovie.com ) quotes the New York Times on the crisis: “For every three poll workers trained, two do not show up on election day. Roughly 1.4 million people have been trained to serve as poll workers [on Election Day 2004], the same as four years ago. But nearly 2 million were expected to be needed.”

Is it time to make “poll duty” on par with “jury duty?” Make election day a holiday (an option so obvious it’s painful)? It’s certainly food for thought in light of the apathy evidenced by shameful voter turnout year after year over the last 50 years.

In the meantime, as you slide the arm, push out a chad, press on a screen, or however it is you vote on Tuesday, look around. Take a moment to thank those bright /addled, sane / slighty sane, cranky /patient, or old/older poll volunteers standing vigilantly/non-chalantly by as you pat yourself on the back for showing up, and rush to get home or back to work.

Then check out “By the People” on PBS… and I might just see you at the Board of Elections, filling out a poll worker application!

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