Hansen: Election workers keep us free

Not unlike librarians, election volunteers probably have an FBI file.

They keep us in line, which means they make other people nervous.

Amid the hubbub of the interminable election, legions of volunteers once again made everything seem so ordinary. No hanging chads, no massive fraud and only a few voting machine snafus across the country.

Locally, they train every year to avoid trouble. Sue White has been working the Emerald Bay polling location for more than 15 years.

“When you’re training, you realize that you really need to do it correctly,” she said. “It’s not something that you take lightly.”

Another reason she doesn’t take voting lightly is its history.

“Being a woman and knowing how the British women got the vote through … and what they did to them when they sent them to prison and force-fed them — I mean, it was amazing,” she said. “I think back on what that took, and I can’t imagine ever taking my voting rights for granted.”

She bristles now whenever she hears people grumble about the hassles of voting, especially women.

“Every now and then I get a little annoyed if I find a woman who sort of complains,” she said. “I usually try to explain to them what it really means in this country particularly.”

Regardless of your political party, the actual voting process is often overlooked, assumed to work as advertised. But that doesn’t mean there are not problems. While not on the scale of Florida’s 2000 chad issue, there are some things that irk election volunteers.

“There used to be one gal who would come in at 30 seconds before 8 p.m. — every time,” White said. “She’s moved away so it’s safe to say this. And then she’d talk and talk and talk.”

White just wanted to get home and see the election results.

“Some people would get there before 7 a.m. — doctors with their scrubs on, and they are kind of impatient,” she said. “They would kind of hope that they could get in before 7, but they can’t.”

White does not miss the old days with people writing all over paper ballots.

“At first, people would vote on paper ballots, and that was pretty easy except every now and then you would get one or two people who would write in something like ‘Mickey Mouse,’” she said.

“We would have to then sit on the floor and go through every single paper and make sure that wasn’t a write-in,” White continued. “That was a complete pain in the neck.”

Now, with the machines, the only worry is whether the electricity works.

“There’s been a huge, huge change. It’s much easier,” she said.

It’s also easier because about 50% of people vote absentee. But the ones who go to the voting booths still expect all the pomp and circumstance.

“We always say, ‘thank you for voting’ and give them a sticker,” White said. “And it’s interesting because most people really like the stickers. I don’t care what age they are. They are insulted if you’ve forgotten to give them one.

“And every now then you have one or two people who refuse to take a sticker, and I don’t know what that’s all about,” she added.

People want the swag.

They want to know their vote counts, their voice heard.

And it will be because volunteers make sure of it.

Even at 7:59 p.m. and 30 seconds.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at