She was a tall 30-something who walked into the polling place at 6:50 p.m. on Election Day. I was standing by the door the woman entered, fulfilling my role as a poll watcher at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Palos Heights. She turned to me and asked with a deadpan face: “What are the odds that I can both register and vote in the next 10 minutes?”
I shrugged and directed her to the first of three tables set up for the three precincts assigned to this location. I noticed she held a handful of documents in one hand as she began to tell her story. The good people of one precinct ran her driver’s license through a reader and directed her to the table of the precinct to which she belonged.
She started over with the new crew, this time producing a tax return, a utility bill and some other documents. Her plight, and the ticking clock, drew others from the poll workers’ team, all seemingly eager to get her registered in time so she could cast her vote before the clock struck 7 p.m. and the polls closed. They formed a small huddle around her as they worked away on her documents.
I wondered why she had waited so long to do what most other voters had done weeks, months and years before, namely register to vote. I wondered why she had waited until so late in the voting day to show up. Was she new in town? Working late? Had some sudden, very late realization? Had someone she cared about lit a fire under her? Had she just returned from out of town?
The level of activity in the polling place had picked up, not from voters, who were now mostly long gone, but from the anticipation of the volunteer poll workers who were eager to pack up and go home after a very long day. The sheer volume of tiny tasks required to end the voting day is amazing in its detail. Certain envelopes contain every conceivable result possible. Certain lists go to one office and other lists to different destinations. The hardware and the equipment needed to run the election need to be packed away in the large gray machines that will be picked up the next day. And the poll workers scurry to get it all done so they can finally end a 12- to 14-hour day.
I lost track of her until she again walked by my post, wearing an “I Voted” sticker on her jacket. She directed a beaming smile in my direction, as if to say, “Hey, this system really works.” I had to smile back at her air of confidence and gratitude for pulling off this last-minute feat of democratic privilege. The chief election judge locked the doors right behind her, signaling the end of the voting day.
And here’s the thing: Those eager poll workers didn’t know how she was going to vote. They just wanted to make it possible for her. This little encounter warmed my heart. It quieted some of the rage I felt on Jan. 6, 2021, as rioters tore through our nation’s Capitol. It made me think that, yes, we are still a democracy.
So, for those who are still convinced that the 2020 election was stolen, here’s some free advice: Next election, volunteer to be an election judge, poll watcher or some other role. Spend a day with your neighbors making this tedious miracle happen, and perhaps you will begin to appreciate how airtight the voting system we enjoy in Illinois is. If you are who you say you are, and your address is credible, you will get to cast your vote.
If enough believers in the “Big Lie” worked an election, we could move their misguided cause back to its last known address — on the fringes.
Tom Wogan Sr. is a retired Chicago-area business owner, a certified election judge and an adjunct faculty member at St. Xavier University. He blogs at www.uncletommyonline.com.
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November 16, 2022 at 05:49PM