The Time I Volunteered On Election Day

Way, way back in 2004, I was an active member of Steel City Stonewall Democrats and I was drafted to help out on Election Day in November. Based on my (ahem) vast social service experience (& lack of experience with poll data), I was put in charge of volunteers. I dutifully began recruiting people to help, including Ledcat and my friend Sarah.

We headed into Shadyside to make sure John Kerry won in the East End. He did, but you know the overall outcome. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Coffee Tree Roasters (or was it Crazy Mocha) was our HQ for the day, but we were warned repeatedly to stay in our designated space so other coffee drinkers could have seats. So most of my day was spent herding miscreant volunteers from the tempting empty seats back into the designated Kerry volunteer space. “Sit on the floor, it’s pretty clean,” was something I said often that day.

Kerry Edwards Rainbow Button
I wore this button for weeks.

It was sort of like a farcical West Wing episode. There were three lawyers on-site, all armed with Blackberries which seemed exotic to me at the time. There were white boards with incomprehensible scribbles and there were a few earnest, well-dressed white men waving their arms and forgetting my name on a regular basis.

My actual job was sending people out to get the voters out. This included providing reinforcements to planned door knocking and having folks stand on street corners with signage. This did not include driving people to the polls. Most of the volunteers came with visions of driving elderly people to the polls, not standing on Murray Avenue with a sign. I did my best to persuade them to take one for the team, fearing they might start cruising senior high rises and nabbing anyone who looked like a Democrat. This occupied a good deal of my time. I could see why they wanted someone with volunteer management experience to handle this task because it was exhausting. Volunteers with predefined, stubborn expectations are a staple in the non-profit world. God Bless ’em.

Then there were the poll watchers. I had no idea what a poll watcher actually did, but I put my heart into convincing people to take on the task. I even convinced Ledcat and Sarah to head over to a school where there were some rumors of malfeasance. The lawyer gave them a bit of a condescending explanation until Ledcat said “I managed to graduate from law school, too, even though I don’t have a Blackberry. Just tell me what needs to be done.” I laughed silently.

Beyond space management and keeping folks on task, I had to deal with things like bathroom breaks. At one point the folks in Squirrel Hill were in dire need and there was no nearby venue with a bathroom. Michael from the former ‘A Pleasant Present’ came to the rescue by coming in early with his key for the GLCC and thus, the queers saved the day.

For what it is worth, there is no art to managing volunteers. It is 100% hands-on craft with a big side of hustle, bossiness and tact.

It was an exhausting day, capped by a terrible loss in the Presidential race. I learned a lot, I realized election day management was too much like my regular job and I managed to knock the driver’s side rear view mirror off the car at the bank drive thru. I did cast my own vote at nearly the last-minute. If you searched through my old PC (which yes is still in the attic), you’d find all sorts of chronicles of this adventure.

I’m a terrible election volunteer. I hate door-knocking although I always talk with people who knock on my door. I hate phone-banking even though I am willing to chat with people who take on this thankless task. I did do really well as the coat check girl for a Bruce Kraus election event.

And I’m still thinking about turning the story about people who were only interested in driving senior citizens to the poll into a short story.


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