Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Violation of the election rules

Ever since I saw Al Gore's face on the Rolling Stone cover during the 2000 elections at my polling place I've been very aware of the little things that oughtn't be while voting. Today, I had hoped that my voting experience would be smooth. I was hoping that pointing out that the placard with Gov. Bredesen's face and name advertising Books from Birth should be removed from the voting area was going to be the worst of it. It wasn't.

It was about noon and I was voting at the Madison Library. There was a line of some 25 people trying to be patient. Most of us had hoped to avoid the long lines by voting early but we made the best of it.

After about 10 minutes of waiting in line I turned the corner and at the head of the line was a late 30ish, heavier white woman of average height with long curly red hair wearing a white T-shirt with "Vote NO on Amendment 1" bold as brass on it. I could hardly believe it! How did she manage to get into the building with that on and then stand in line so long without anyone saying anything to her? This was a clear violation of campaign rules and yet there she stood: a billboard for her cause inside the polling place, steps from the machines, right next to a poll worker and facing the rest of the voters in line.

I pointed at her and said she wasn't allowed to have that message on in here. That of course, made everyone else in line look at her and she seemed surprised that I'd called her out. I said again "You can't have that on here. You need to leave." Without saying anything she slipped into the room with the actual voting machines and headed to the table to go through the process. She had a magenta sweater over her arm but she was making no attempt to put it on to cover her campaign signage or apologize for forgetting she even had it on. I could only conclude that her display was an intentional violation of the campaign rules.

I slipped past the line, past the election worker who was handing out "I voted" stickers and stood next to Ms. No. I looked at the election worker at the table and told her that Ms. No was violating the rules and needed to remove her shirt or cover it up. The election worker agreed and Ms. No said she would but made absolutely no attempt to put her sweater on. I asked her when she was going to comply. I insisted that she had to leave the room. I asked for the person in charge and the poll worker pointed out Peggy West who was busy helping another voter. Ms. West said she'd take care of it but she continued with the voter instead of coming over immediately and taking care of this egregious violation of the rules. We were going about in circles-- my asking Ms. No when she was going to follow the rules and she saying she would without ever doing so.

Ms. West finally did come over and explain to Ms. No that she wasn't getting any further until she complied with the rules and Ms. No again said she would. Ms. West took up my mantra of "When?" Still Ms. No was making no attempt to cover up. Ms West wasn't happy with my 'help' and said she could call someone. "Fine with me", I responded.

She turned her attention to Ms. No and yet again Ms. No responded that she would cover it up but didn't even begin to do so. Ms. West looked at me and told me to leave the room. I figured I'd done about as much as I could at that point and did get back in line. It wasn't until after I left that Ms. No finally began to put her sweater on. By the time she finished processing and stood in line for a machine she was covered.

How is it that the sticker man didn't call her on this? That's nearly as incredulous as Ms. No's brazenness in violating the rules. My car with its bumper stickers was parked outside the 100' line but her T-shirt gets a pass? No. This shouldn't have happened. It's normal for me to discover campaign literature every time I vote. I know it's a big job. I know it's tough to get poll workers as it is. Part of the problem is the system requires a loooong day commitment and not enough of us have that much free time. I believe half day's would be better and would expand the pool of people available. Something better must be worked out. We've got to hire people that aren't afraid to challenge the violators and ensure that the process remains as untainted as possible.

When I got back to the line the conversation was about "How could (Ms. No) do that?" To some people the ends justify the means I suppose.


Anonymous said...

You will notice that it never seems to be the Republicans trying to force their way into the polls with campaign material on. You only have to look to north Nashville to find the NAACP in a tent 99' inside the 100' mark passing out voting guides. You only have to check the TSU mail server to find Democrats telling out-of-state students that if someone has them vote provisionally because they aren't registered in Tennessee it's a violation of their rights. You only have to follow election officials to Cloverbottom to see them voting on behalf of people that don't know their own name. Sure, a paid worker cheated on 4 voter registration forms with no intent to commit election fraud. But the Democrats have been pulling eggregious violations for years. The only solution is to challenge them, much like you have.

Anonymous said...

If you are so diligent about checking your polling place for violations, why don't you become a volunteer poll worker yourself?

To the other poster, why are you assuming that the person with the offending shirt was a Democrat?

Kay Brooks said...

I was considering it this time around but like most of us, a work commitment kept me from being able to it. It's hard to be gone all day. I need to make sure and get my application in early for the next go 'round and arrange for someone to watch the children. It actually does pay about $100 for the day. But you do have to have a training day also, if I remember correctly.

Nashville Election Commission

Anonymous said...

I can only hope that you would be equally as diligent if the Tshirt had said "Vote Yes."

Kay Brooks said...

You don't know me do you? Yes, I would have let the wearer of a YES shirt know that they had violated the rules and made the same demand.

I firmly believe that when you enter the polling place the time for campaigning is past.

Divers and Sundry said...

As you found out, you have to get the poll workers to enforce it. We voted early today, and there were people not far outside the door to the polling place holding up campaign signs and handing out literature. My idealistic 22-yo ds found a poll worker, but she wasn't very interested in doing anything about it. (sigh) She seemed irritated with him. There were people inside the polling place in line to vote with campaign brochures in their hands, and the poll workers said not a word.

What kind of training do poll workers receive? Are they required to enforce the law, or do they have discretionary powers in this?

Oh, and it's possible you frightened the poor woman, who honestly might not have known her T-shirt violated the law and who might have been running scared from you. Maybe next time you could approach the poll worker _first_ rather than publicly confronting the person in line. But, if your experience is like ours, the poll worker won't care....

Kay Brooks said...

No. She wasn't frightened. She was determined.

While I followed her into the room with the machines she wasn't chased. She and I stood side by side for most of this encounter and not once did she back away or indicate that she'd merely forgotten what she was wearing. All she said was that she would cover the shirt. Yet she never made a move to put her sweater on. She never once said--"What are you talking about? Why can't I wear this?"

I don't believe she made an innocent mistake.

Divers and Sundry said...

Ah, well, I do know folks who wouldn't have known -like several of the people I told your story to at church last night. One of the women was a poll worker, and she said most people she corrects honestly don't realize that they shouldn't be reading the campaign brochures while standing in line.

Why don't all poll workers act in a consistent way to enforce this law?

Kay Brooks said...

Well, I'm assuming a couple of things:

1. This woman intended to wear the shirt. No one dresses unintentionally--especially as a billboard for a hot political cause in a political season.

2. People who have campaign literature thrust at them at the last minute are likely to assume that if they got it at the polls, it can be read inside the polls. That'd be wrong but an understandable mistake.

3. A pamphlet is a fairly private exchange between the paper and the reader. An XXL T-shirt is not private and not intended for the wearer to read. It is intended to influence others.