Got a Barn? Let’s Put on a
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!