Democracy is not a Spectator Sport

I’m an Election Inspector.

You know those folks who sit at the cafeteria tables on election day, check your name against a big book, point you towards the voting booth, and thank you for practicing your democracy?

That’s me.

It’s a long day. Polls in our community open at 6 a.m. and close at 9p.m., and Election Inspectors have to be there a half-hour before they open and up to an hour after they close. We get one hour-long break at some point, but aside from that, it’s not unusual to go the entire day without seeing the sun.

Why do I do it? The money, of course. They pay us over $4,000/hour for our troubles and we… oh wait. No. They don’t. We make $25/hour, which, while nothing to sneer at, is not exactly a life-changing salary.

No, I’m an Election Inspector for the thrill of being part of something greater than me, and the experience of meeting people at their best. For whatever reason, nobody shows up to vote in a bad mood. They’ll happily travel to their local church/school/fire station, wait patiently in line, and deal with occasionally-confused poll workers just to spend fifteen seconds or so in the voting booth, smiling all the while.

Sitting behind that table, I meet people from all walks of life. From parents introducing their children to the voting process to folks in their 90s taking pride at having their voice heard (and oft times telling the most off-color jokes imaginable). From passionate supporters who can’t wait to get in there and pull the lever to people weighing options in their heads up to the last minute. And everyone in between.

Also, from time to time, you get free food — which rocks. (Always a good idea to bring food to your local Election Inspectors. Home-made cookies. Fresh fruit. A lavish meat/cheese spread. We’re not picky.)

A relative newcomer to the Election Inspector game, I’ve worked three elections so far, one in Dobbs Ferry, one in Tarrytown, and most recently in Ardsley. I’m a floater, and they send me to whichever district needs somebody for the day. They always need somebody, and this November they’re going to need even more people.

They’re going to need you.

“What?” You say. “Me? But I’m not retired!”

Neither am I. I’m 36. When they handed me the Election Inspector handbook at the mandatory two-hour training class, I scoured it for the page that said I needed to be collecting Social Security in order to work the polls. Funny thing is, it’s not in there. Turns out, I could work after all.

And so can you. Generally, when I work an election, I’m about 30 years younger than anyone else working the polls, which makes me ashamed of my generation, as well as the generations on either side of mine.

Honestly, why aren’t more of you actively involved in your democracy? Voting is the basis of our system of government, yet nobody can spare the time to participate? Do you want to go to work that badly?

What are some of the reasons people don’t work the polls on Election Day?

1) You didn’t even know it was an option. Well it is. Now you know. Excuse removed.

2) You have to work. Are you kidding me? You called in sick to catch the Giants’ Superbowl parade but you can’t become an integral part of democracy? It’s not like elections sneak up on you. You know right now the date of the November election, you clear your schedule.

3) It sounds boring. Maybe if your idea of a good time is to shutter yourself away from the rest of humanity while staring at a computer screen. But if you want to meet people, be a part of something bigger than yourself, get a true sense of accomplishment for a day, this is your thing. Plus you can generally get in 200-300 pages of a good book during off-year elections.

4) Elections don’t matter, all results are chosen by the Bilderberg Group months in advance. Uhm…yeah. OK. But sometimes the Roswell Aliens mess up the totals and, well, did I mention the free food?

Look, I know most of you are reading this with a “Sounds great in theory but I have a pressing waxing appointment that day” attitude. I don’t care. While it’s too late to sign up and work in this month’s local elections, the coming Presidential election in November is going to have a huge turn-out. Polling stations are going to be swamped, and they’re going to need help. If this article moves one person to contact the Westchester County Board of Elections at either 914-995-5702 (Republicans) or 914-995-8568 (Democrats) and get involved, I’ll have done my job.

Just think about it. Because democracy is not a spectator sport.

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About the Author: David Neilsen