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Commentary & Opinion

Ralph Gardner Jr: A Poll Worker's Proud Dad

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Ralph Gardner, Jr.
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I’m proud of my daughters – there are two of them – for lots of reasons, perhaps most of all at this moment because they’re politically engaged. You’d be hard pressed to find a low information voter anywhere in our household.

But I’d like to single out my older daughter Lucy who next week will join thousands of other Millennials as first time poll workers.

I’d like to ascribe her volunteerism to patriotism. And it is. But that might not be her primary motivation. “I’m mainly doing it because normally it’s my mother who is a local poll worker,” she explained since I asked. “And I was happy to volunteer so she could not be exposed to coronavirus.”

That’s admirable. But why must our children treat us like we’re old people just because we’re old people? I don’t recall me treating my parents with kid gloves. Both my spouse and I remain reasonably healthy. So why do our kids behave as if we’re three feet short of a catastrophic fall or a deadly encounter with Covid?

I suppose that’s better than a spectacular display of indifference.

But it’s not solely about our ostensibly fragile health. Patriotism is also at play. “Additionally,” Lucy said, “I think it’s important that people take an active interest in the democratic process and that we have dedicated workers making sure things go smoothly on Election Day.”

She attended a several hours-long training course for Columbia County poll workers last month in Hudson, NY. She said this election feels different than previous ones, for personal reasons. “Not only have I never been a poll worker before,” she explained, “but I’ve never known anyone my age who was a poll worker before. I’m one of a minimum of six people my age I know who for the first time are becoming poll workers this year.

She went on: “I think a positive by-product of the activism of this moment is that a new generation of people are getting involved with the mechanics of a functioning democracy and that’s exciting.”

Given the rhetoric surrounding the election, the polarization of the electorate, and fears about voter intimidation I asked whether she was concerned for her safety? If she can worry about us falling down a flight of stairs or contracting a potentially deadly airborne virus then we get to worry about her.

She said she’s taken online de-escalation training even though she’s hopeful it won’t be necessary. “Just talking about how to calm people down,” she said. “Speak quietly to them. Make sure their needs are met. Don’t engage with inflammatory rhetoric.”

But Lucy said she’s not overly concerned. Or rather that her normal level of anxiety is high. “As a generally anxious person I don’t have more anxiety than I do walking down the street every day of my life,” she told me.

I don’t know where that comes from. Her mother is one of the less anxious people I know. OK, so maybe she gets it from me. But I’m not overly concerned a cab will jump the curb and mow me down. She is. My concerns are more career related.

The hours as a poll inspector are grueling. They were for my wife, too. Lucy has to be at her polling site at five a.m. and doesn’t go home until 10 p.m. That’s seventeen hours. She said she’s been preparing herself by going to sleep slightly earlier and waking up a little earlier each day. For her that’s a big concession since she’s a night person. I’d go so far as to call it selfless.

“Right now I’m at 6:30,” she reported. “Luckily, the daylight savings change will help me by an hour.”

That’s another difference between us. She prepares. Before she takes a vacation she does voluminous research on where she’s going. Where that comes from I have no idea. It’s stark proof that while the apple may not fall very far from the tree it can roll for a while. I prefer to wing it.

But I’d say that the biggest difference between us – it must be a generational thing – is that she doesn’t care about missing the televised drama of election night. I’ll be glued to the TV starting at six or seven p.m. I’ll have suitable beverages to help me control my nerves. I don’t know what I’m preparing for dinner yet but red meat and a dessert that involves cake with frosting seem smart choices.

Depending on how the night goes – though this thing might not be settled until January – I’m also thinking of breaking out a cigar, even though I don’t smoke cigars.

“I stopped engaging with television media about two years ago,” Lucy said with what distinctly sounded like condescension. She doesn’t even own a TV. How can you not own a TV? It’s like not having indoor plumbing. “I have no desire to watch any election results,” she added. “I think all of you people watching TV are a huge part of the problem.”

She’s probably right. And that makes me proud of her, too.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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