After riding my bicyle to three different locations over the last seven days in a row to work as a clerk for the county elections office during early voting, I have some observations. Chief among them is that having a job again is both gratifying and exhausting, kind of fun but kind of annoying. Another is that Austin is still a place that still has a whole lot of white people in it, especially due the high rents of downtown, which limits some people of color. But where there is diversity, it is quite varied. Third, for the most part Austinites are a very well-behaved, clever and mellow bunch.
Fourth, voting is one of few times where people of all political stripes come together to exercise their right to participate in democracy, and that’s a beautiful thing whether you agree with voting or not. And a fifth is that while voting is something that some people deride, some ignore, and others celebrate, it’s still a fascinating experience to be part of the process. There are more things you might learn as I did if you just click on that little Continue Reading button. It’s like voting! Please vote to read the rest of this blog! Vote for A Dude Abikes!
Austin, Texas Turn Out to Vote En Masse
My commute downtown to Austin City Hall this week was only about six miles, and my shift about seven hours. But a much more important humber is that between the morning and my afternoon shift, there were almost 7,000 voters in five days. Holy Voter Registration, Batman! That’s alot of people. Turnout has been high because Tinyhands Orangehead and his evil minions have inspired either their followers or those who oppose his agenda to turn out in droves. During that time I processed voters on the laptop computer, a ballot form, the judge’s booth controller machine, or served as technical clerk to do changes of address, resolve problems like figuring out the voter was in the wrong county, and led to some provisional votes that would be reconciled at the elections headquarters.
In the process of doing my job, I had some interesting interactions: I said hi to Mayor Adler, photobombed a press conference on my bike with a Councilmember Casar, spoke with the friendly security guards and fellow somewhat grumpy poll workers, helped some voters in Spanish, and came face to face with so many people that my brain is really super tired from (literally) processing them all. I noticed that while left-handed voters (aka lefties) are about 10% of the population, they at least seemed to vote in a higher proportion. Once in the voting room, people were sort of hushed and somber, as they should be. Voting is serious business and the collective acts of all the voters can end up affecting lives, money, property and so much more.
People Are People / Let My People Vote
I really appreciated the rich tapestry and variety of people that all are equal in this one, simple, profound way: one person, one vote. There were people with disabilities, from wheelchair users who had to communicate with a keyboard, to blind and visually impaired. I saw immigrants who had become citizens (like every American or their ancestors is, except for Native Americans) – people from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Professionals, laborers, service workers, moms with babies, and average dudes. The poll workers, both in person, various troubleshooters, a poll-worker trainer who came as a back-up, and helpers on the phone, were also all over the spectrum.
People were in all different kinds of moods. From the rushed and pissed off city employee skipping lunch, to those on their day off who were out jogging or biking around the lake who treated it like another errand, patient retirees, to lots of enthusiastic younger voters — everyone was doing their duty. When I learned of a first time voter, I called that out and applauded. Sometimes I’d work the lines, answering questions; other times, I’d be at the table and be cracking wise about someone’s name, or clothing, or something just to keep my mood and theirs light. Sometimes a person wouldn’t be cheered up, and at other times, I just did my job and kept the line moving like cattle to the slaughterhouse. It’s a job. A Dude needs money for bike stuff: gloves, a bell, fresh inner tubes, tune-ups, bike snacks, and much more.
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. ”
But is Voting Really Revolutionary?
On a political listserv I suscribe to, opinions range from “It’s a complete waste of time because politicians all lie to get elected” to “Yes, people can change things with their vote, so they should,” and variations in between the two extremes. I’m not sure where I come down on it. I tend to think that something some people in some countries can’t do at all, or they do at great personal risk, under threats of violence, and with much corruption, is worth doing. Whether one’s individual vote really changes anything at the macro level is debatable. But not voting is certainly a statement too. Considering dictatorships won’t allow it, and the US used to be occupied by the British, voting has, can and will change things in some places. Will it change them enough to matter in the daily lives of most people? Depends on what the election is for.
At the local level, I think there is clearly more impact. That’s mostly due to just a question of numbers: a statewide race for US Senator may have milions, whereas the request for bonds to pay for affordable housing, parks, libraries, etc. is under a million voters. People benefit from libraries, social services, parks, sidewalks and bike lanes. So yeah, it’s definitely important. Inevitably there are those who just vote straight ticket and skip the other questions. But is voting revolutionary is not easily answered and the answer depends on location, person, culture, government, the political moment, and much more.
To me, the act of voting itself is both an endorsement of the system and either a vote for the status quo or a vote to change it. But in times of political upheaval, I would say people should err on the side of participation instead of opting out. The former may be naive in hoping politicians will represent your own views — they can’t please everyone — but it may be a bit arrogant and cynical to say that you’re too good to vote and that it changes nothing.
Clearly, the current regime in America is changing things, and many people like me think it’s in the wrong direction. Most people love their country and want it to improve; we just have wildly differing ideas on how to do it. Taking yourself out of the conversation is a choice that makes finding a common ground difficult. But maybe the times, they are a-changing. We shall see if anything does, or it’s much sound and fury about nothing.
What do you think about voting? If you’re in the US, will you be voting in the mid-term elections? If not, why? If you’re overseas, how dangerous or difficult is it for you to vote? Does anyone else bike to vote? Or work in their elections?
As always, I welcome and encourage comments. I will now cast my vote to end this post. If you plan to vote, remember to get out there on November 6th. If you didn’t plan to, maybe consider participating this time if you are registered after educating yourself and see if you aren’t pleasantly surprised that participating in democracy — flawed as it is — is better than not.
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”
–attributed to Winston Churchill, who quotied an unspecified source (Richard Langford)
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2 thoughts on “Is Voting Revolutionary in This Election Cycle? Biking to Work the Polls in Austin, Texas”
I appreciate your insight
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Thanks for the appreciation! Hard earned insight it was.