Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Protecting democracy, one overreaction at a time

Many months ago, I was involved with a pro bono project at work.  (I decided to post this later for various reasons.)  My firm volunteered to assist a non-partisan group that I will not name run a call center on election day to assist voters and poll workers.

I knew from the very beginning that our primary purpose was going to be to help people too dumb to find their polling location.  If, however, anything big went down--election fraud, voter intimidation, etc.--we were there to use our Lawyer Powers to Save! America!

(Lawyer Powers ... kind of like this.  But with suits.)

Over the course of the month it took to plan for this call center, the person in charge of this endeavor -- or who put herself in charge, anyway -- was not satisfied with my efforts, nor the efforts of Sam, my fellow first year associate.  Her many obnoxious character traits (combined with all the obnoxious emails, conference calls, and threats to our livelihoods) earned her the nickname CrazyPants among several of our colleagues.

"What's wrong?  You look stressed.  Oh, is it CrazyPants again?"
- Direct quote

And it always was.

But somehow, Sam and I muddled through until Election Day, where we thought that CrazyPants would finally take it down a notch, if only to save face in front of all the lawyers and law students we had recruited from around Fake Austin to participate as volunteers.  

No.  Not at all.

CrazyPants really outdid herself that day.  She was openly rude to several volunteers, particularly the law students.  She was pompous.  She used nonsense military jargon, like boots on the ground and deploy and elevate this through the chain of command.  She claimed to have spoken with the Secretary of State  when what she meant was "spoke to someone who worked at their office."  She invited news crews to come tape the command center and interview her, even as she expressed shock utter shock at their presence -- "I don't even know how they knew we were here!"  

(And knew how to ask for you by name at reception?)

As we sat at our computers in the call station, the lawyers from my firm who had agreed to help me and Sam that day would stew in silence and email each other on our Blackberries about how very much we all detested CrazyPants.  

Now, obviously, we all have to work with the CrazyPantses of life.  So what made this girl so very special, and meritorious of a blog post?  

Well, here's the problem.  One goal of this non-partisan project was to collect statistical data on what kind of voters had issues on election day, what those issues were, where they occurred, and whether they were easily resolvable. We were there to ensure election laws were being follow, not to benefit any particular party. 

But CrazyPants and her cohorts were True Believers.  Not just in this pro bono project.  They believed that people (and specifically Republicans) are out to get minority voters, trick young voters, stuff ballot boxes and twirl mustaches.

Because, you know.  Republicans love felonies and hate democracy.

I have no idea if this attitude permeates the entire organization, which is why I won't say which one it was. But it was extremely clear to all of us that in this call center, according to CrazyPants and her immediate homies, Lucifer votes Republican.

So every ... single ... little ... bizarre complaint that day was, for some reason, taken seriously.  Someone called in to report that their brother saw guys with earpieces watching a polling location.  (Or, you know, Bluetooth headsets.)  (Or, you know, you're on crack.)  So a volunteer was sent to check it out.  (And reported finding nothing suspicious.)      

A polling location was reported as closing early.  The County had already sent officials out to make sure that wasn't the case, but CrazyPants forced two law students to drive out there as well.  (And, I don't know, start recording votes grassroots-style?)  Of course the polling location did not actually close, and if it had, it would have been the County's job to make sure the problem was resolved.  But CrazyPants proceeded to inform her higher-ups that, "A polling location closed early, but we got it reopened." 

Read: "A polling location never closed, and we wasted people's time."

A voter called to complain that her polling location did not have a Spanish interpreter available.  Now, in case you wondering (and I doubt you were), the law in my imaginary state requires that the County provide ballots and instructions in English and Spanish.  Voters are entitled to have anyone of their choosing accompany them into the voting booth to interpret and explain the ballot.

THERE IS NO REQUIREMENT THAT THE COUNTY PROVIDE INTERPRETERS.  But you can be damn sure CrazyPants wanted to send someone out there to Rectify! This! Situation!  

While Sam tried to explain to her that there was nothing wrong with the lack of a Spanish interpreter - 

(CrazyPants, dramatically as possible: But what is even the point of having the Spanish instructions if the voter can't understand them!!  

Sam, as frustrated as possible: That's not really the point, because because that's not really the law.

Everyone else, in elitist silence: Perhaps we shouldn't encourage the illiterate voter who apparently doesn't even have one literate friend to vote.)

- I met Molly's eyes from across the room.  Molly is a Senior Associate at my firm, and I know for a fact that she speaks Spanish.  In that look, Molly and I came to a silent agreement.  Under no circumstances were we going to let CrazyPants find about Molly's bilingual bona fides.

Is that wrong?  Sure.  Do I care?  Nope.

A voter called to complain thirty minutes from the polls closing that his boss had given him an assignment that was going to prevent him from leaving work to go vote.

A voter complained that because she had, you know, failed to register to vote that she was not allowed to vote.

CrazyPants herself had two problems when she left to go vote - first, an elderly poll worker inaccurately explained a conditional ballot to her, and second, the Republican observer* present at the polling location took her side, but in her words, was "intimidating to the poll worker."  

A voter called to complain that Hispanic voters in a heavily Hispanic area were being asked for two forms of ID.  (There was also a lot of histrionics about how "they" are always trying to intimidate "Mexicanos" from voting.)  Kitty, my mentor associate attorney, and I were assigned to drive out to BFE.

We complained loudly and colorfully for the entire drive.  Sample dialogue will not be provided.

When we arrived at the polling location, we were greeted by three female Hispanic poll workers, all of whom were able to accurately describe ID requirements for voting.  One of them even mentioned that one potential voter about an hour earlier had been annoyed that he was not able to use his Costco card as proof of identification.  (I mean, jeez, it has a picture.) 

I called Sam to report our findings, and when he told CrazyPants, she said, "Well, of course they told them the right information when they were asked!"

As if Kitty and I were simply woefully naive, and the three cheery female Hispanic poll workers we had met were actually three nefarious, white, Republican men wearing rubber Mission: Impossible masks.  

There were more bogus calls throughout the day, and every time someone investigated further, it became abundantly clear that nothing dastardly was going on.  The vast majority of people were, as I predicted, simply confused about their polling location.  (It certainly didn't help that CrazyPants gave them incorrect legal information regarding their right to vote at their appropriate location after a move.)  For the most part, it was a very mellow election day, with only one potentially serious problem occurring in the entire state, and it didn't even happen in our region.  A success by any account, right?

And yet, when CrazyPants was interviewed by local media about our results later that week, she informed them that there were 8 reported incidents of voter intimidation throughout the state.

Sam and I consulted our spreadsheet, and in order to get to the number 8, CrazyPants had to count every bogus call we got.  

Go team.  

* Each polling location is entitled to have one representative from each major party on the ballot present to observe.  This means there will almost always be someone from the Democratic and Republican parties there to watch out for the same problems we were trying to look out for and record.  

Of course, the evil Republicans must have incapacitated the Democrats, because we didn't hear from any Democrat observers in our region that their locations were having problems, and obviously a lot of bad crap went down, between the earpieces guys, the boss who gives his employees stuff to do, and the Hispanic poll workers attempting to disenfranchise Hispanics.  Tsk tsk.

A song that reminds me of a certain event: "I Hope You Dance," LeeAnn Womack, junior prom.  Not because it was the theme -- I don't actually remember the theme -- but because it came on as my prom group and I were tiredly sitting on benches regretting our choices in footwear at that point in the evening.  

That's right.  We sat through "I Hope You Dance."


  1. I probably would have killed someone and been stuck trying to find a good body hiding place on voting day. I'm not sure how you lived what with all the crazy Republicans trying to disenfranchise everyone and CrazyPants being crazypants.

    Also please tell me you can do the Care Bear Stare in a suit. It would make my day.

  2. It is not fair to write a post so funny that I find it necessary to get up in the middle of it to go to the ladies room to keep from peeing my pants. [Either you are really funny or I am old and have had too many kids. I am going with the former. You be quiet.]

    It started with the damn Care Bears. Curse you Ru. Curse YOU! giggle

    I am so glad you shared this. She sounds like an absolute paranoid, conspiracy theorist. Wow.

    Bet you are glad you are away from her now. :D

  3. As a Democratic Campaign Operative I was sent to observe and report such nefarious acts as people wearing their campaign buttons to the polls(which is illegal, but hardly warranted my drive to Kaine County).

    However, I did have to have legal intercede where poll workers were telling people how to vote straight party and that the Republicans were on top.

  4. Care Bears equal awesome. Fact.

    I realize that the point of this post is not, in fact, Care Bears. But I don't have any good comment for the rest. My condolences for having to work with CrazyPants.

  5. Next time I have a conversation with my boss that I relay to someone else, I'm going to refer to her as "Secretary of State." Sounds like Crazy Pants needs an updated copy of "How to win friends and influence people."