Republican poll watching

By Jim Bowman

Opinion

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ELECTION DAY: I was never a teen-age werewolf, but I was a Republican poll watcher Nov. 2 at Heritage House, the senior citizens' residence at Lake and Lombard. Identified as such by the judge at the door, I got a pariah's greeting from another judge, sitting at the table:

"Republican?" she expostulated. "I didn't know there were any in Oak Park!" She was sitting next to one, a fellow judge, but apparently thought that even Republican judges were Democrats. I heard later from a northeast Oak Parker that this had been the case a few years back, Republicans were so scarce.

The expostulator got an immediate talking-to from the man at the door. She was 70-ish, trim and alert, and looked like a sturdy New Englander of the kind that colonized Chicago business in the 19th century. He too was trim and alert at 82, I was told. He asked what the matter was with my being a Republican. No one answered, but it seemed not an idle question. The complainer desisted but shot suspicious glances now and again.

I sat down next to the long judges' table across from one of the Republicans, a former neighbor and Beye School parent. We talked family and such matters. He told about returning from Viet Nam, where he had served with the 101st Airborne Division, and hearing war protestors saying bad things about him. The Swift Boat Vets of the campaign did not come up, but I guessed what he thought of the candidate about whom they complained in those battleground-state TV ads.

Mid-day, voters flocked in. There were old neighbors, the realtor who had sold our house for us, school parents from years back, and a young contemporary of our younger children. "Hi, Aaron," I said, having heard him give his name. Wouldn't have known him otherwise, but he knew me. We chatted briefly.

Meanwhile, the judge at the door was telling voters to "stand at attention" while he stuck an I-voted sticker to his or her lapel. He's done it that way for years, apparently. He did it once too often on this day, however. A woman objected not only to how he handled her ballot but how he applied the sticker. "Don't touch me!" she threw back at him on her way out. Wounded, he wondered what happened. A discussion ensued about touching people in 2004.

Earlier, he had spotted a ballot not yet judge-initialed and brought it to the table for marking. He looked at me and said, "It's the first," adding, as if to make it official: "Tell them that in Springfield."

Some voters needed provisional ballots. Others were sent to other polling places. One or two wanted to register on the spot. One voter, her legs giving way at the door, required the bipartisan services of the Democrat watcher and me, each holding an arm, to make it to a booth-with-chair.

That Democrat, a Chicago resident, 50-ish, was standing in for a 60-ish Mister-Something whom the judge knew, apparently as a regular. "Mister" vouched for him, taking a break while the other did the grunt work, what I was doing. That came down to waiting for the "tapes," the final vote counts spit out by the ballot-swallowing machine at the door.

By 8 p.m. or so, these were ready. I got my tape, to take to a south Oak Park house party. "Mister" needed six, and they had to be signed by the judges. It was a case of Republican amateur (me) and Democrat professional (him), though I assume his day job had something to do with a labor union. Pleasant fellow he, as was his 35-ish sidekick, with whom he sat in the lounge outside the polling place for a good part of the day.

I got no names of these three?#34;"Mister," his sidekick, and the poll watcher. But if there was something Yankee about the judge who had been astonished to see a Republican, there was something that identified them as owing much if not all, genetically speaking, to the Emerald Isle.

I left first, shaking hands with all the neighbors of the place but not kissing colleens all. This wasn't Donegal, for one thing, and I was leaving, not arriving. And it wasn't necessary. The judges thanked me. And why not? I did a good job.

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