Playing a small role in our democratic process
A few observations from the files of an official Nevada County Election Observer…
That’s right, voters. I may be the new kid on the block, but last Tuesday I was asked by county Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick to serve as an election observer.
Perhaps she felt I had an honest-looking mug and that I wouldn’t be the kind of observer who would eat all of the cookies on election night and leave without observing.
I received a crash course on the finer points of observing an election Tuesday morning, when Lorraine gave me a tour of the county election headquarters. I couldn’t help note that it was conveniently located next door to the mental heath department, which is exactly where most election headquarters ought to be located. You’ve got to be a little crazy to run for some of these offices.
All in all, my impression was favorable and I left election headquarters by mid-morning, confident that Lorraine and her fine staff would be able to sort and count the ballots much faster than their counterparts in Florida, where they still expect to turn on CNN and see President Al Gore.
I returned to election headquarters just after 7 p.m. My red, white and blue name tag clearly identified me as an observer and provided immediate access to the bowels of election central and, the all-important food table. It was way better than the back stage pass I got once for a Grateful Dead concert.
Not wanting to appear like some inexperienced political groupie, I kind of hung out on the sidelines, over in a corner with a couple of county techies who were hovering over a laptop computer. The county Web site was poised to post up-to-the-minute results and I wanted to steal some as soon as they were available.
“Where is your Web site getting the results from?” one of the techies asked me, eyeballing my official observer name tag and realizing I was from The Union.
We’d been telling our readers to check out theunion.com on election night for up-to-the-minute results.
“From you guys,” I told him. “We’ll pull the numbers off your site and post them to ours.”
I had to remind him that our site belonged to us and so did his, since both were paid for in part with our money.
Tech guys are cool because they’d rather discuss URLs than politics and that’s generally fine with me. After a couple of campaign months, I’d rather talk about lawn care than politics.
The 8,000 or so absentee ballots were counted by 6 p.m. or so, but the election officials couldn’t release those numbers until the polls were closed at 8. That’s a good policy. It keeps interest high and gives an impression that every single vote counts. In fact, every single vote did count in the Nevada City treasurer’s race, which was settled by three or four votes. That was exciting until I learned that the Nevada City treasurer only makes $100 a week.
I had to remind myself to do some observing from time to time. Up until 8 p.m., I’d really only observed some chips entering my mouth.
“Everything looks good from here,” I said into my jacket lapel, trying to look and sound official.
“What?” said the fellow next to me.
“Everything looks great tonight,” I told him, a little embarrassed for being caught speaking into my jacket lapel. “My name is Jeff and I’m an election observer.”
“Aren’t you the new publisher of The Union? I think I saw your mug in the newspaper the other day.”
“Yes I am,” I admitted. “That’s my day job. At night I observe elections. I’m a professional, actually.”
After swearing to protect and uphold the Code of Conduct for Official Election Observers (it’s one paragraph pretty much stipulating that if I ever see anyone altering a ballot I will rip their ears off and feed them to my ducks), I left Lorraine to her counting. By then she was beating the daylights out of her own opponent, which meant I wasn’t the only one confident in her abilities to handle elections.
Someone told me the newspaper was paying part of the tab for an election bash over at the county library, so I headed over there to do some further observing and perhaps a little slam-dancing. I bumped into the hard-working radio guys from KNCO and KVMR, who wanted me to go on the air for a few comments.
“I have nothing to say,” I told them, remembering my Code of Conduct. “If I tell you what I’ve observed this evening I’d have to swallow this pill they gave me. I took an oath.”
Then I grabbed a bag of popcorn and sat back to watch the results on a big screen, which didn’t change for the next hour.
I made a note to liven up the party in November, perhaps inviting a magician, or the Thunder From Down Under male review from New Zealand. As long as we are picking up part of the tab, we have an obligation to make sure everyone leaves happy. You learn that in the casino business.
I was home by 10, feeling fairly confident that I played a small role in protecting democracy for the evening. Things were back to normal by sunrise. The election was over and I was just another everyday citizen.
I’ll start preparing for November’s general election sometime around September. There are eyeball aerobics classes over at the gym and I’ll need to sign up soon. An Official Observer can never be too prepared.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The Union.
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