Behind Enemy Lines: Being Democratic Poll Worker In a Very Red State

Jun 13 2012 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party


I just finished some citizen grassroots grunt work Tuesday night at about 8:00. It was an end to a day that started at 6:10 AM at a local church. I gave of my nearly 14 non-stop hours for a cause. I served as a precinct Poll Manager. Manager is a title given to South Carolina Poll Workers. The actual boss is the Poll ‘Clerk’.

It wasn’t totally altruistic. I was paid $120 for the 14 hours, the previous night’s set-up work and 2 training sessions of about 4 hours. That figures out to roughly $6.00 per hour, not to mention the home study and additional on-line training. No, you don’t do it for the money.

The average age of the workers was around 70. One story-telling Navy vet was just short of his 82nd birthday. Another dear senior opined as how this coming November might be her swan song. She’s older than the vet. Several others were pushing 80. There were 7 of us altogether. I’d say 5 were really committed right-wingers who during the slow periods (and there were many) talked ‘Fox’ to the rest of us. One of the helpers was a former State Supreme Court Justice. He was married to the Clerk. They would yell at voters as they were leaving to be sure to sign the petition of a far-right candidate for a county office. I’m not sure that’s even remotely legal, but didn’t get too excited insofar as my liberal wife signed as well, with her good liberal, school-teacher reasoning of “everybody has a right to run.”

The turnout in the precinct was well under 1% of eligible voters. You read that right. There was but one race on the primary ballot and it was a couple of democrats vying for the right to run against the million-dollar plus Koch-infused war chest of congressman Trey Gowdy. The lady beat the pawnbroker, 71-29%.

Let me explain the 1%. A state registration snafu kept 246 potential candidates of both parties off the ballot giving a decided advantage, as if they didn’t already have one, to the incumbents. In my precinct many republican voters apparently didn’t get the word. When they requested a republican ballot, we had to tell them there were no contested republican races. We did add that they could vote in the democratic race. You’d have thought we had said, “and, by the way, you can vote for your favorite Nazi if you wish.” Almost to a right-wing voter, they held their noses (I mean literally) made faces, raced for the exit and acted as if they had been exposed to some dread disease.

So with 7 worker bees at the poll, the total official vote count was 17. That’s in a precinct of some 2,200 voters.

As you can imagine, there was plenty of time for gathering round the cracker-barrel circle of chairs and talking politics. In my case it was mostly listening to others do the talking because I didn’t want to bother refuting the nonsense and creating ill-will. It didn’t take long for a Tea-Partyish type to grab the reins. Essentially out of nowhere, one of my male counterparts volunteered that even though Finland has universal health care, its citizens pay dearly for the privilege. “The Fins pay a 70% tax rate for their health care and socialist programs, I was assured. And what have they got to show for it?”

Welllll…even the most cursory research would reveal – plenty! On many levels. Yes, they do peel off a fair number of Euros for their universal health care, education and other ‘socialist perks’. And, given that most polls identify Fins as just about the happiest, healthiest and best educated people on planet earth, maybe a dash of universal this and that might be just what the doctor ordered (pardon the pun) for the U.S.

Finland has long concentrated its medical efforts on preventive care and research. To that end, some nasty diseases have disappeared – this is the kind of extinction I can encourage. The ladies can expect about 82 years of life; men around the mid-70’s. Infant mortality numbers are 2.6 deaths per thousand, routinely right there among the lowest rates in the world. The U.S. on the other hand hovers around 40th. Even Cuba cleans our clock.

The state and locals share the health care burden. Top tax rates can hit 60% (The top base rate is 31%). The basic tax system is progressive with the poorest paying the least. Ask the next Fin you run into if he/she would rather live in Finland or the U.S., then check emigration numbers.

A slow day nestled amongst political enemies (albeit, nice people) is an excellent learning experience. Take the visitor who identified himself as a first-generation American citizen who fled Ceausescu’s communist hellhole of Romania in the mid-80’s. This highly emotional gentleman was exhibit ‘A’ of republican right-wing propaganda successes, no matter how insipid, stupid and downright untrue that propaganda may be. This gentleman appeared to be around 50 or so. He was clearly a rabid republican and when told that there were no republican contests to vote for though he could vote democrat if he wished, raised his voice about 100 decibels in declaring that he would never vote for the party of that ‘COMMUNIST’ Obama.

Paraphrasing, “I know what it’s like to live under communism. I am Romanian. Let me tell you what happened to me. I went to school to become a Metallurgical Engineer. I went to work for a large state plant. One time they said they were going to use steel in one of their fabrication projects. I told them to use a certain alloy because if they used steel, the product would start to crack within one or two years. They ignored me and used steel.” He got even more worked up as he gestured emotionally and cried out, “That’s exactly what happened. It started to crack and they came to arrest me. Fortunately, I had back-up proof that it was the idea of my superiors to use steel and I had tried unsuccessfully to talk them out of it.”

Fox News, other right-wing propaganda outlets and elected officials have long called Obama a socialist and communist. Reasonable progressives have shrugged the descriptions off as being so absurd that nobody would possibly believe them. This poor man’s rant is proof-positive that there are people out there who do believe even the most outrageous lies and distortions.

So that’s how I spent a tiny fraction of my summer vacation. Doing my bit for democracy and biting my tongue for most of my 14 hours. The opponent’s strategy is working. The right-wingers genuinely hate democrats and most of their number is willing to believe anything.

Be advised!

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