This week, I worked the pole. Erm, I mean I worked the polls. I was an election worker. Surely the music and body glitter of working the pole would be far more glamorous.
I live in Kansas, and there was a big ol’ amendment on the ballot that had people all kinds of excited – and rightly so. I wanted to pretend that freedom would prevail, and I dutifully wrote postcards to voters and donated money and talked to my friends. But still, I was having nightmares about the whole thing. “A Handmaid’s Tale” is a novel, not a how-to guide, people.
And so what is better following sleepless nights than reporting to a local polling place at 6 a.m. to work a 13+ hour shift running around a church basement with a concrete floor? My knees and I did it. It was my first time – and if we’re being honest? I think it’s like working retail. Everyone should do it at least once. And I never want to do it ever, ever again.
The very first person I checked in changed some details of his registration and so had to vote a paper ballot – which of course made him bellow, “But I’ve lived here for 30 years!” at me, like that would make any difference.
I’m a grown-ass woman. Get your shit together, buddy, and take your tomfoolery elsewhere.
I was delighted by the tiny moments. Lots of kids who accompanied their parents and were thrilled to receive “future voter” stickers. Our youngest “voter” was 11 weeks old and it was all I could do not to scoop him out of his stroller and kiss on him through my N95. Our neighbor came through with her four kids, including her 4-year-old, who plaintively asked me, “Where’s Li’l Frank? Can I pet him?”
Pretty sure she thinks I’m a monster for not bringing my elderly dachshund to work the polls. She might have a point.
It was so gratifying to see so many first-time voters. High school and college-aged women came in pairs or small groups, wearing outfits I didn’t understand. Evidently now the thing is what back in the day we called “bike shorts” paired with jog bras. Which … I guess if I had an 18-year-old body, I’d wear that, too. But! The point is that these young women came out en masse to vote. Some came with brothers or boyfriends that they may have escorted to ensure they showed up at the polling place.
Anytime there was a new voter, an election worker would yell, “We have a first-time voter!” And the rest of us would cheer and clap. Embarrassment ensued. But also small grins of pride that softened my heart.
The highlight of the day was an elderly woman who came in on the arm of a guy in his 50s. She sat in a chair near me while he stood in line for her. She was 94. Well, she’d already been so busy that morning. She lived in her own home and the pool was low, so she put the hose in the pool. And she tended to some of her flowers, then had to do her hair and get dressed to come vote. The gentleman with her was her neighbor. “Oh! He and his wife are so good to me!” she gushed. “We just have so much fun!”
Later, when he walked her to the registration table, I heard the election worker ask if he was her son. “No, he’s my neighbor,” she replied.
He recoiled a bit and admonished her, “I thought I was your boyfriend!”
And they laughed like old friends.
I tried to hold on to that feeling. The numbers started coming after the polls closed, and I started to have a glimmer of hope that I hadn’t allowed myself earlier. And when it turned out that my bodily autonomy wasn’t to be decided by a governing body of old white dudes who don’t know me and aren’t my personal physician?
I ugly cried. It had been a very long day.