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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anom October 29, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I think it could be much worse. Other places have the Black Panthers camped out to make people vote liberal with others have white supremacist to make people vote conservative.

I believe we are lucky in that Austin is a very activist oriented town and we don’t have to worry about many of the things (you’re even in Westlake for God’s sake!) that many other areas do. To me that seems more like a case of someone who has been dealing with a lot of people and starting to get a bit frustrated. I’m assuming not only because you are from Westlake, but because you don’t seem to relate to dealing with many people is such situations like this that you never worked retail before? It doesn’t sound like they were trying to influence your vote.

2 Ghettoimp October 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm

To play devil’s advocate, being frustrated by computers is a very normal thing, and it’s not like she’s the one who designed the voter registration cards (which I agree seem stupid — I just used my driver’s license and it seemed perfectly fast, so why have these cards in the first place?) But at any rate, you weren’t intimidated or told whom or what to vote for, etc., and after a brief delay you still got to vote (well, maybe—who can say what the machine actually did), so what’s the big deal?

3 Steve Crossland, Austin REALTOR October 30, 2010 at 6:19 am

Hi Anom – No I don’t think they were trying to influence my vote. But the lady wasn’t focused on her specific task, which is simply to process voters through a line, to scold or berate us because we haven’t shown up with the specific form of ID that she personally prefers. And, no, I’ve never worked retail, but I do deal with all manner of people in my business.

Ghettoimp – I agree. Next time I’ll just hand over the driver’s licence. I only carry the card because it tells me my specific precinct info and voting districts.

Steve

4 Julie October 30, 2010 at 8:10 am

I think you have every right to be offended. It was not that lady’s place to give you a lecture. And I understand that you were just saying you felt what it was like to be in another shoes, one where they may be intimidated when they try to vote. You were not comparing being reprimanded by an old lady to being told who to vote for, that was obvious!

5 Tim October 30, 2010 at 9:38 am

I’ve had this type of experience a couple times and it does make you want to leave and crawl under a rock. It’s startling since normally poll workers bend over backwards to be nice.

Yesterday I got held up by a woman who was helping her elderly neighbor and they had to wait for a voting machine with a chair. They made a lot of concessions to let the woman sign in sitting down and wait sitting down. I doubt very much anyone in line cared. Which is as it should be.

6 anon October 31, 2010 at 9:52 am

I think you might be taking this a tad bit hard. If you already have to fold it after cutting it, why not just fold it twice so it fits in your wallet to begin with? The extra width of the postcard stock is only about one business card thick.

If you think about it, you were critiquing the size of the voter registration cards by modifying them, and she was critiquing you back on cutting off the most important part.

7 vri November 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I think situations like this make the case stronger for mail-in voting- where you dont have to drive to the voting booth past incessant campaigning 100′ from the booth , wait in line, put up with snide comments etc. I have always wondered how the current system is not discriminatory ; you can mail-in if you are 65 but not if you are less than 65. Irony is that my son who is busy at school and work needs the mail-in ballot more than his retired grandmother. States which have mail-in ballots for all typcially have higher turnouts – not surprising when you consider that number of people who manage job(or jobs) and home, pick up kids at day care or get stuck in traffic because the street lights are out (as happened this Tuesday in NW Austin) .

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