Friday, June 6, 2014

Lessons I Learned From Being A Poll Greeter

For nearly thirty years, I was a journalist. When it came to politics, what being a journalist meant to me is that while I HAD my political opinions, I kept them to myself. They did not to figure in any way, shape, form or fashion into the unbiased news coverage I had committed to delivering when I began my career. (Too bad more of today's journalists don't hold to that standard. But, I digress...) So for thirty years, I never campaigned for a candidate, never put a sign in my front yard or bumper sticker on my car, and never endorsed anyone.  
After a long day of greeting voters at the polls
alongside the candidate's mom

This year, that all changed. No longer a journalist, I jumped on board with a candidate I believed in. The long campaign came to a close this week on primary election day. I volunteered as a poll greeter. My role was simply to smile and greet voters as they entered the precinct, and politely ask for their vote for my candidate. Easy, right? 

Mostly. But there were a few bumps and wrinkles along the way. Happens the first time you do anything! So, here are some of the lessons I learned from being a poll greeter. If you read them, you might have a different attitude the next time you go to the polls. You might have a different attitude about life in general!  

1. Be nice and smile.

For the most part, the voters at the precinct where I stood... for 8 hours.. in the hot sun... were pleasant. For the most part. But to those who snarled, sniped and bit my head off... a simple nod, a quick wave on your way to the voting booth, or even (gasp) A SMILE would have been nice. We were not there to bother you, harass you or dipsy your doodle in any way. Mostly, we were thanking you for taking the time to come out and vote at all. And, we welcomed the opportunity to let you know that our candidate would appreciate your vote. You know, whether you are smiling at the poll greeter, the grocery store checker, the car wash guy or at your reflection in the mirror...just remember...smiling is polite. It doesn't hurt. It doesn't cost anything, and BONUS...  smiling makes you look younger. So, unpucker those lips, unfurrow those brows, and roll the calendar back a few pages.  Next election day, you'll be able to spot me. I'll be the one smiling at every poll greeter I encounter. Even the ones who are supporting the opposition. And on that note...

2. The opposition is not the enemy.

You stand mighty close to the poll greeters for the opposing candidate at many precincts. And, that's ok. Just because you don't agree on a candidate doesn't mean you shouldn't be civil. In my case, the "opposition" and I  shared a few laughs, the shade of a tent, potato chips and bottled water, and a genuine desire to participate in the political process. And on that note...

3. Voting is a teachable moment.

Participation in the political process was disappointing in this election, as voter turnout was low. What WAS encouraging was the number of parents who took their children to the polls. Each child came out proudly sporting an "I Voted" sticker. Of course, they hadn't, but they had watched mom or dad exercise their right to vote. Hopefully, this experience will encourage them to become consistent, responsible and informed voters one day. And on that note...

4. Be informed.

I was shocked at the number of voters who told me that they didn't know anything about any of the candidates and would make up their minds once they were inside and looked at the ballot... for the first time. Yikes! People! There are many ways to research candidates and learn about their stand on the issues. Go to their websites.. they all have them! Non-partisan groups also have websites that spell out candidates' positions on issues. Get a sample ballot from the elections supervisor's office. You don't even have to get out of your recliner. Get it on line! Exercising your right to vote is important. Voting wisely is even more important. Be informed. Be responsible. Be prepared. And on that note...

5. Be prepared.

This one is for poll greeters more than voters. Thankfully, I packed a small cooler with water bottles. I drank them all and had to run out for more! I packed a windbreaker and an umbrella (which I did NOT need) but did not pack sunscreen, food, or a way out of the blistering sun (which I DID need.) Luckily, I don't burn, I don't eat a lot during the day and a wonderful campaign team member stopped by with a tent to help take off the heat. (Thanks, Miles.) Next time, regardless of what my day holds, I'll be better prepared. Like my mama used to say, "better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it." And on that note...

6. Have a great attitude, regardless of how things turn out.

My mama also said that. It was something to remember as---at the end of the long election day--- I watched the candidate I'd supported tell all of us that the election had not gone the way we had hoped. It was a remarkable moment. I had signed onto Don Hembree's campaign for Alabama House District 101 because I believe in his character, judgment, ethics, integrity and leadership abilities. He demonstrated them every day of the campaign. And he lived them out the night that things took the turn that none of us wanted. He was gracious, thankful and hopeful about the future.

And so... the most important lessons we can all take away from my experience as a first-time poll greeter and from the candidate I worked for are these:

Be honest. Be committed. Be prepared. Be informed. Be truthful. Work hard. Do the right thing even when it's not the easy thing. Be nice and smile... even if you don't feel like it. Look for teachable moments. Give it all you've got. And, if things don't work out the way you'd hoped... give thanks for the experience and then turn an eye to the future. You never know what might await you!

See you next election day!