Yesterday, the news dropped that Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has issued an executive order urging schools to close so that they may be repurposed for the days of August 18 (primary) and November 3 (general) as polling places. He also encouraged state and school employees to serve as poll workers on those days.
Social media reaction, especially from teachers, was swift and ran along the lines of “no,” “hell, no,” and <unprintable.>
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) dissents.
Even before the executive order, GOT was considering becoming a poll worker. Things don’t happen in a vacuum and to understand the background of the story, let’s revisit why the executive order was issued.
Florida’s Supervisors of Elections, who are county officials elected by the residents and have the status of being constitutional officers, asked for more flexibility in being able to meet the demands of conducting an election during a pandemic.
In particular, they asked for more early voting days and for the authority to consolidate polling places as needed to meet staffing needs. The fear is that many poll workers, being retired senior citizens, will not work on the scheduled election days for fear of being exposed to Covid-19.
The governor did not agree, but decided to ‘urge’ schools to close so that they may serve as polling locations and ‘encourage’ teachers et al. to be poll workers on those days.
You will find GOT agreeing that any mandate for teachers, even one along the lines of you-got-the-day-off-you-should-work-anyway nature, is out-of-order. Not even given that fact the poll workers are paid a stipend.
Poll workers work long days. They must report by 6 AM to their assigned location. Polls open at 7 AM and close at 7 PM. Already, we have a 13 hour shift. But even then, once the polls close, the workers have to secure the ballots and tabulating machines, tidy the location, do other duties for the purpose and until the count is reported to the central office, etc. Even without problems, they often work for 15 hours for a stipend of $225, or about $15 an hour.
Better than minimum wage, you might say, until you realize that ought to be the minimum wage.
But GOT will stay on topic. Why would he volunteer for such a day when he could sit at home and relax?
Protests and demonstrations have broken out across the nation, “from the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam …” or “from California to the New York Island,
from the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters …”
All to say that Black Lives Matter. Critics say they shouldn’t demonstrate on the streets because that carries the potential for violence, in particular theft and arson. (No, I won’t use the emotionally-laden terms usually applied in these situations.)
What about kneeling for patriotic displays of song, flag, and military? Nope, ask Colin Kapaernik how well that worked out.
The fall-back advice is that the way to effect change is at the ballot box: Vote!
That brings us to Georgia, whose voter suppression moves came in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that vacated key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What good is a vote if you can’t cast it?
Then, this year we saw what happened in Wisconsin and then Georgia (again!) as voting officials claimed that they needed to consolidate voting places in response to Covid-19. People waited for hours to cast their vote; some got discouraged and went home.
Milwaukee opened only five polling places. Five places for a city with an estimated population of 590,000. Then, Georgia also experienced long lines.
Let’s put all this together. Covid-19 gives election officials the excuse to consolidate polling places, which impacts negatively the right of all persons, especially black persons, to exercise their 15th Amendment right to the ballot box.
Florida’s Supervisors of Election asked for the same. GOT is not impugning their intentions in any way; nevertheless, consolidating polling places will suppress voting if for no other reason than voter confusion when their usual polling place is closed and they don’t know how to find the new one.
Black people are risking their lives marching in the streets to demand what they are due: equality under the law and in our society.
Should GOT stay at home because of a fear that the virus represents a risk to health and life?
Or should GOT do his part and become a poll worker to keep all precinct polls open and operating? Yes, it involves a risk, but really, it is nothing in comparison to what other people are doing.
GOT will risk his life and health to see that people have access to a ballot. He has applied to be a poll worker in his county and will take personal leave if necessary to do the work.
It is the least he can do.
In closing, GOT would like to ask other teachers, “Won’t you do the same?”