When I finally got close to the front of the line at my polling place in 2004, a pollworker told me to cover my T-shirt. It had the words “Vote Explosion” on it.
Seeing as I had nothing to cover it with and had just spent 3 hours in line, I politely pointed out that there was no partisanship expressed by the shirt. Vote Explosion was just a loose group of friends registering folks to vote at rock shows. She replied that they were trying to avoid even the slightest possible implication of impropriety.
OK, fair enough. Polling places are supposed to be inner sanctums of nonpartisanhip. Neither voters nor pollworkers may wear political shirts, stickers, or buttons within a 100 foot radius. Although the words “Vote Explosion” aren’t explicitly partisan, neither are the words “Eagle Forum” or “MoveOn.” I think it was a wise move to err on the side of overzealousness, and simply prohibit T-shirts bearing all of the above.
The guy behind me in line loaned me his sweatshirt, and I was able to step forth to express my partisanship in the privacy of the voting booth. As an ongoing tribute of thanks to sweatshirt guy, ever since that day I’ve stowed an extra large, plain T-shirt in my purse whenever I go to vote – just in case a fellow voter is asked to cover up.
Until I read Monday’s Columbus Dispatch, it had never occurred to me that I might someday want to offer my spare shirt to a pollworker.
As part of its “Day of Democracy” effort to fill 2,200 pollworker spots in 548 precincts, Montgomery County Board of Elections deputy director Betty Smith told Dayton Right to Life executive director Christi Dodson that the organization?s logo would be permitted to be emblazoned on the chests of pollworkers.
A shortage of poll workers prompted the Montgomery County Board of Elections’ “Day of Democracy” program, which allowed companies and organizations to put forth their logo-wearing employees as elections workers.
The idea was that companies and organizations would be more willing to recruit employees or members to work the polls if they could get a little free advertising in return. Union members, for example, wore shirts bearing their union?s logo while working the May 8 primary.
According to the Dayton Daily News, “although Right to Life sent people to work at the polls in May, none wore the group’s shirts because they were not ready, said Christi Dodson, executive director.”
“This was strictly a marketing tool,” said Betty Smith, a Republican who is the board?s deputy director. “It was not put together to have any political agenda.”
Did Smith think that as long as all the organizations that produced pollworkers were allowed to wear their t-shirts, it would be o.k.? Equal opportunity and such?
Betty Smith obviously showed unacceptable ignorance and lack of good judgment, but equally culpable are organizations that took her up on the offer. Leaders of any politically-oriented organization should know better than to participate in this “marketing” plan. But Dodson, executive director of Dayton Right To Life, was prepared to take the opportunity a step further. In reference to her organization’s members who would be acting as pollworkers on election day (italics mine):
“Obviously we will be there to answer questions about life issues, but I think we have to be very careful that we are helping at the polls that day,” Dodson said. “We are not there to convert somebody.”
Well, that got the attention of the good folks of the Montgomery County BOE. I’m not sure where they all were back when the “Day of Democracy” program was approved, but anyway:
[Dodson’s] remark was greeted with shock by county board officials, who said poll workers are never to discuss any political issue, even if no voters are in the room.
“If anybody said we?re putting ?right to life? on shirts at the polls I?d have said ?hold it,? ” said Sue Finley, a Republican member of the board.
Finley, fellow Republican Jim Nathanson, and Democrats Tom Ritchie and Dennis Lieberman, said the only fair solution might be to ban all names and logos on elections workers? clothing.
I can think of one cause that is appropriate for pollworkers to champion on election day: upholding the letter and spirit of election laws. That includes maintaining an atmosphere of impartiality. Anyone who is incapable of that has no business being a pollworker.
Which brings us back to the chronic pollworker shortage, which unfortunately is not limited to Montgomery County. Here in Franklin the BOE has over 5,000 spots to fill. Cuyahoga County needs 3,000 poll workers.
So I’m going to be a pollworker November 6 and I assure you I won’t be wearing my Vote Explosion shirt. Or my Planned Parenthood pin. Heck, just for kicks I might even make sure I’m not wearing pink, orange, or black.
It will be tough to keep my opinionated nature under wraps for a full day, but I’m up to the challenge. If you’re up for it too, please join me – sign up to be a pollworker. Click here for a full list of county Boards of Elections.