Poll Watching

I showed up early. 6AM. I followed the rules explained to me in my training and dutifully sat and observed my polling station in the village of Granville, Ohio, for four hours straight.

It was totally boring.

I’d only been in Ohio for year, brought there from New York City by a tenure-track job at Denison University and still a full-on East Coast snob. I’d heard tell of long lines at polling stations in the last election. Of voters not being able to vote. Of crooked, crooked poll workers.

And some of those stories were very much true. So I was there to observe. There was no way these slack-jawed yokels were gonna suppress the vote here in Granville.

Not on my watch.

But I was tired. And, really, it was boring. It also seemed like the people running the polls knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, they knew a hell of a lot.

I went outside to sit on a bench in front Granville’s First Presbyterian Church. I pulled a PB and J sandwich (I eat one every day) from my bag and watched the cars go by. A few minutes and about ten F150s later, three women dressed in black, all in high heels, sat down on the bench next to me.

They were staring at their Blackberries (2008, y’all) and discussing amongst themselves.

They couldn’t find the polling station.

“Can I help y’all?” I asked.

“Yeah, we’re trying to find the polling station in town,” one replied.

“Turn around.”

“Oh! Duh.”

“So where are y’all from?” I asked.

“New York. Manhattan.”

“Oh. Poll watchers?”

“Yes.”

“So, it’s really rural here,” one said.

“Uh huh.”

“Like, we were in Knox County and there were Amish people.”

“Yes.”

“Do people actually live here?”

“Yep.”

After that exchange I knew I was no longer a New Yorker.

I also knew that the Granville Village polling station was over-saturated with poll watchers.

That afternoon, Ceciel and I drove around Licking County observing polls in Utica and on the East End of Newark. We were greeted by competent poll workers—people who just want democracy to happen on election day.

And the thing is, in this country, voter suppression doesn’t always happen on election day. It happens well before it.  It happens when states “purge” voter rolls. It happens when states cut back on early voting.  It happens when states penalize returning citizens after they’ve completed their sentences.It happens when voters are misinformed.

There’s a guy running for office who thinks the election is rigged. Maybe so, but not exactly in the ways that he imagines.

So, I’m observing again, and I’m hoping I don’t run into any New Yorkers…

Unless they’re carrying bagels and cream cheese.