Standard disclaimer: See sidebar. These are my views, not those of my employer, for whom I am in no way authorized to speak. I am writing from my experience working for an elections division, a worker bee who gets to see up close and personal how elections happen.
I’m back at work this week, upholding the finest traditions of government in America. That’s right, I am an election worker. The local county I work for is having an off-year election.
I work in the vote-by-mail department. My particular job is “signature verification,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: we check the signatures on the ballots that come in against the signatures on file from people’s voter registration cards. We’re not conducting forensic analysis, and our determinations will never show up in court. We’re simply looking for lines in the signature that indicate that one person signed both documents.
In addition to the philosophical happiness of working for the common good, I love the work itself. I tell myself that this means that all my many hours joyfully wandering through art museums has finally had a practical application, although an expertise in finding Waldo would work just as well. (A former supervisor, agreeing with my art analysis, said looking at signatures was sometimes like “looking at Jackson Pollacks, albeit really crappy Jackson Pollacks.”)
Technically, this work could be done by about anyone. It doesn’t call on skills developed in my expensive undergraduate and professional education. All it requires is a good eye, comfort around computers, and decent problem-solving abilities. It’s not glamorous, or exciting: nobody exits college thinking, “I want to do signature verification” for a living. (For one thing, it’s seasonal. For another, it can be stressful during a big election: the 2016 general election was crazy.)
My job is just one of many required for an election to go smoothly. Elections are one of those things that people never stop to consider how complicated they are until they break down. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I heard the Russians had hacked into the voters’ rolls of some counties in the Midwest, I gasped in horror. Everyone else I knew expressed concern, but until you’ve worked an election I don’t think you appreciate just what a huge impact that could have.)
What I do matters. Although right now I am working on a small off-year election, last year I was one of the anonymous hundreds — thousands, across the country — that made representative democracy possible. We worked very hard to make sure that government of the people, by the people, and (hopefully, although sometimes I have my doubts) for the people survived.
This makes me happy.