My earliest encounter with elections - not counting those grade school class officer or student council elections that I worked so hard on but never won - was working at the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners on election night. I was about fourteen and served as a ”Gofer” during the hours of absolute chaos when the polls were closing and the poll workers were bringing their flags and signs and ballot boxes in to the building where the vote counting was taking place. There was no provision made for parking so the poll workers parked wherever they could find a spot and marched the block or two to the front door. If you ever saw the image of the "Spirit of '76" you get an idea of what it looked like except instead of a drum they had a ballot box. They looked like they had been through hell. Sometimes it was raining and that cold November rain made everything worse. One of my jobs was to take the flags and signs for storage. Somebody more important took the ballot box. A few times each night I had to take some of the paperwork upstairs to a large room filled with guys in shirtsleeves bent over tally sheets. Newspaper reporters and various officials and observers were milling around. I'm sure someone was in charge. At least I think so. Once you got past the chaos of the street and lobby it seemed fairly organized upstairs but it was still a little crazy.
Our elections are not pretty. They are chaotic and can get out of hand. The hanging chad or the missing ballot box put elections into turmoil and sometimes into court. Often there are voters still lined up after the polls are supposed to close. Too often voters stay home and don't vote at all. The computer programs used for voting have also been called into question. Not too many years ago my state elected a dead candidate to the Senate rather than send John Ashcroft and I still applaud that decision. More and more people are voting absentee or vote early which cuts down on the numbers showing up at the polling place. I think early voting is okay but a little risky because the few days leading up to an election are sometimes important to the campaigns.
We ought to be able to do this better but I'm not sure we want to. Other countries vote on weekends or over several days so it isn't as frantic as what we go through. I now live in a rural community and I kind of like the urgency of Election Day and the face-to-face experience. My neighbors are the poll workers and election judges. Voting is a community event and I enjoy it even though I am too often on the losing side.
Causes Ken Hartke Supports
Save the Children, public broadcasting