I Was Reprimanded and Lectured by a Travis County Polling Worker

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on October 29, 2010 · 7 comments

Sylvia and I stopped by Randalls in Westlake yesterday for early voting. Upon presenting my voter registration card to the lady who checks ID, she reprimanded me for having trimmed it to a size that fits into my wallet.

The voter registration cards in Texas are the size of a standard postcard. This makes it inconvenient to carry in a wallet. So I trim the excess off the top and bottom with scissors, making the card the same height as a drivers license. Then, when folded in half sideways, it fits perfectly in my wallet, with the relevant info intact.

Anyway, the election worker proceeded to inform me NOT to trim the card next time because I chopped off the bar code that the scanner reads and now she has to enter the info manually into her laptop instead of just scanning it. I told her I’d never been told that. She then proceeded to tell me that if it takes an extra minute to enter my info, I’m holding up the line and causing other people to wait longer than they should have to. I said “oh, would you like to scan my drivers license instead?” She said “no, I already have you up here” (on the laptop screen).

This was all spoken in earshot of at least the first 3 or 4 people in line behind me. I considered saying “hey, Old Lady, shut up and just do your freaking job”, but I instead apologized for having trimmed my card and causing her the extra effort of typing my name into her screen.

Is it the polling worker’s job or duty to issue such reprimands and lectures to voters? No, it’s not.

When voting, your ID and its condition are pass/fail. You either properly identify yourself and are in the right place, or you are not. There is no “A+” or “C-” grading system regarding the ID preasented. So, if a construction worker shows up with a tattered and worn out drivers license, it’s not the place of a polling worker to say something like “you need to get that replaced” or “wow, looks like you’re ready for a new one”. No, it’s either proper ID or not. Period.

Same with the voter registration card. It’s either a valid one or not. There is no requirement to leave the barcode intact, no rule against trimming it to fit a wallet. If it’s the official card, it’s valid, period.

So, what’s the big deal, really? Well, it caused me to think about how sacred our voting rights are, and how we interpret things that are said to us. I don’t personally feel like anyone was trying to deny me my right to vote, or to sway my vote, but, on some level, I did feel harassed at the polling place. It makes me more aware of how thin the line might be for voters in a more sensitive position than me, a middle aged white guy. I wondered how I might have felt if I was a blue collar guy in work clothes, or a single mom with a toddler on my hip, or a minority voter.

Thus, the next time I see a news story about people complaining about something that’s happened to them at a voting place, I won’t be so quick to dismiss them as crybabies making a big deal about nothing. I can’t say I know how it feels to be discriminated against, but I can say I know what it feels like, in this instance at least, to feel unwelcome at a polling place and to be treated rudely by a person of authority at that polling place.

To the old geezers manning these voting booths – thank you for your service and contribution to our voting process. Without your volounteer time and efforts, voting would be more time consuming and costly.

But we don’t need your reprimands, lectures, comments or suggestions. Just shut up and do you job. Be nice. The documentation people show up with is either sufficient or not, it’s pass or fail, and your commentary about the condition or state of a voter’s ID is not part of your training or your job, and you just might create an impression that was not intended.

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