Saturday, October 16, 2004

I am my own wife, Florida style

Where do the days go? Time is really beginning to fly now, and there is none to spare for feeling upset about mismanagement, etc. There is only time to try to manage as best one can the latest eye-rolling crisis. The office is beginning to fill and hum with activity. Granted, chaotic activity, but activity nonetheless. Today Robert and his friend Rich broke down the wall that separated our space from the adjoining empty retail space. The wall had been constructed for our occupancy either because the landlord did not want to rent us the whole gigantic lot or we couldn’t afford it. So now we have moved our phone banking next door, which is a relief. It was getting old hearing the same scripts over and over as I sat trying to do six things at once at my desk.

Here are some highlights from the last couple of days:

“Advance,” but not progress. Kerry is coming on Monday, which means on top of everything else, the latest advance team has arrived to usurp our time and resources. We begged them not to give out our phone number as the info line like last time, but unfortunately the crowd guy (one of the advance team, like the motorcade guy, etc.) sees that our lame fax machine is out of order with a replacement coming soon, and decides without asking anyone to make our fax line the hotline. “You’ve got an answering machine, right?” he asks. Nice. We have our new fax, but the line is now attached to the requisite machine that spouts ticket info. I thought that was a pretty dumb move until I saw the flyer. Not only was our office number on it, so were all the other offices’ numbers! Down at the bottom was the lowly hotline number. So we hadn’t saved ourselves a thing—we’d just lost our fax line for the weekend to little or no purpose. This event on Monday is an early vote kick-off, and is being held inside a well-known gated community called Century Village, where you have to be over 55 or 65 to live there. Because it’s Kerry, there will be magnetometers [I just looked that up on the web, and realized that I’ve been saying my own invented word “magnometers” this whole time] and I know all too well how long it takes to move people through. It’s an outside event and it’s early in the morning: doors open at 7:30am. Robert and I are so worried that it will be a disaster that we are reluctant to work the event. And I have a previous engagement of sorts, with the Supervisor of Elections. Which brings me to another episode….

You know we’re in trouble when…. Robert and I have been bringing in the absentee ballot request forms that we get in our office down to the Supervisor’s office all this week. The other day alone I brought in almost 500. This is nothing compared to the record number of requests sent in for this election (I can’t find the newspaper article with the numbers! Grrr!), but it is a lot for me to process. I have to look at all of them to make sure they are signed and at least reasonably coherent. In a bid to encourage people to vote absentee (these votes will provide the only paper trail in the county) many organizations have sent out various kinds of absentee ballot request forms. The Democrats here however are managing to do more harm than good with theirs, since many people manage to fill it out wrong. We got a hundred easily that hadn’t been signed (which we are trying to deal with by mail and phone calls), due to the fact that the part you have to fill out was on the top left of the 4 by 8.5 inch card and the signature place was in the bottom right. I wish I had the resources to put an image of it on the web for you to see. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to fill out correctly, but when you old, or if you aren’t very educated in form-ese, it’s very likely you’ll do something wrong. My favorite mistake is people who fill out the top right hand side by mistake. The top right hand side is for someone who is requesting a ballot for a family member. You write your information as the requestor, and then you state what the “Requestor’s relationship to voter” is, such as mother, son, sister, etc. Many people filed this part out even though the request was for themselves, and wrote the most bizarre things in this space, ranging from the silly “same” or “self” to the strange “none” to the humorous “wife”—leading me to the “I am my own wife” designation of such forms.

One of these correct requests for a family member however caught the attention of a worker at the SOE who was looking through the forms. Robert and I have become familiar with one of the clerks, but by Friday things were getting busy that I was taken aside and some other women dealt with me. They have to look them over to see if they are signed, even though I’d already done that. Anyway, this woman saw one that was signed by a woman who’d written POA after her signature, meaning Power of Attorney. Power of Attorney does not grant standing to request an absentee ballot for someone, so she said that this one wouldn’t be acceptable. Except that this requestor was the daughter, submitting the form for her mother. The fact that she happened to have Power of Attorney was irrelevant, since her standing as a relative allowed her to request her mother’s ballot. I explained this to the woman, who was unconvinced, and went back to check with someone else. She came back and conceded I was right. I was pleased with myself, yet more than a little perturbed that a few day’s exposure to these forms had me more familiar with their rules than this employee. When I suggested to the women hastily date stamping my piles of request forms that things must be very busy, one of them said ominously “you don’t even know the half of it.” It really will be a miracle if things go well here in this county. It will be nothing short of a miracle.

To come back full circle, I asked our favorite clerk Stephanie when would be the best time to come on Monday if I had to drop off ballots. She said first thing, which means 8:30 am, and that means I can’t really work the Kerry event. I fear that the Main SOE office is going to be ground zero at 8:30 on Monday, since that is when early voting begins, but I guess I’ll have to give it a try. Nothing like being in the center of things to make you feel important!

Unhired help. I’ve said previously that the best aspect of this experience is the people I’ve met. We continue to add people from all over the country. Today I spoke to another volunteer who is coming in from afar next week—upstate NY to be exact—and she turned me on to a cheap car rental place, which is just what Robert and I needed. So we will have two cars beginning Monday afternoon, which will allow us to split shifts. On the other end of the spectrum was another volunteer considering flying in from Bay Area. He however apparently had a slightly different idea about things. He needed us to arrange housing, which we do (we use volunteers who offer to host these so-called Kerry travelers), but he seemed annoyed that we hadn’t been in touch with him about a place to stay and whether we’d provide him a car (apparently someone higher up in the organization is making it sound like we are a full-service campaign, which is the funniest thing I’ve heard this week). He asked what he’d be doing, and I mentioned what will be going on, like phone calling, canvassing, visibility, general office help. When I mentioned phone banking, he said in an annoyed tone “if it’s just phone calls I can do that from here, I don’t need to come out there.” I felt like telling him to get off his high horse, and that while it may not be glamorous, everything we do here is important, and if he doesn’t feel it’s worth his effort, we’ll do just fine without him. What is this guy’s problem? Does he want to help, or does he want to feel self-important? Some people. I hope he doesn’t come. I’ll keep you posted.

Time for some much-needed sleep. We did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit, taking a walk out to the beach after leaving the office. The weather today was gorgeous, so a nature break was ideal. Tonight I've spent some time dealing with my other life; for example, I need to get readmitted into Berkeley to go back to the books once this ride is over. Robert is already passed out, having slept through most of the Yankees’ routing of the poor Red Sox. We stayed late last night and got up extra early this morning (thinking we’d leave at 1 or 2, and not at 4). We were the first people there today at nine, which was exciting. I think I’m going to start working 9 to 6 or 7 instead of 11 to 9 or 10. It’s fun being there in the morning—provided you have the energy to get out of bed! How many days left? Whew, only 17!

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