I believe I’ve mentioned before on this site that when I was living in Caspar, the polling place was my house. In fact, at one point they split Caspar into two districts with two polling places, and we had voter turnout competitions. I think that my interest in politics and voting probably stems back to all of the elections held in the front of our house, all the meals we cooked for poll workers, and all the good times that we had. I used to beg to stay home from school on election days so that I could watch all the voting.
Now, this was back in the days where people used paper ballots. I remember that the polling stations would arrive the night before, along with a locked box of ballots and a big barrel to stick them into. We’d set up the polling stations, and the next morning, the poll workers would come and pull out the voter rolls and organize the ballots.
As people voted, they dumped their ballots into the big barrel, which would be taken to Ukiah after the polls closed. But, inevitably, we were left with ballots at the end of the night, and there was always a question of what to do with them. You see, one of the poll workers had to certify that they had been destroyed.
One year, as I recall, we built a huge bonfire of unused ballots and roasted marshmallows. But in the 1992 election, my father came up with a novel solution to the problem. It was a solution which appealed to the flair for the dramatic in all of us, and it turned into a bit of a community event, much like the bonfire year.
As had become traditional, we all sat down for pasta dinner at around six o’clock. We dragged out a long table, covered it with a tablecloth, and brought out vats of pasta and spaghetti. Some bottles of wine may have been hidden under the tablecloth, but I wouldn’t know about that sort of thing. The rule was that if people came to vote during dinner, they could either sit down and eat with us, or request their ballot so that they could vote and leave. Most people sat down to eat, or at least socialize, and word of the Great Ballot Disposal Plan was slowly spread through the community.
After the polls closed, the polling stations were packed back up, a poll worker stood guard over the barrel and filled out paperwork, and we marched over to Tommy Brown’s house for his table saw. We dragged the table saw right out into the middle of Caspar Road, and ran a long extension cord into our house. Traffic might have been backed up in a normal town, but this was Caspar, so no one really cared, and there wasn’t any traffic to speak of anyway.
And then, with a flourish, the saw was turned on, and my father arrived with a stack of unused ballots in an array of colors, trailed by the poll workers.
“All right,” said my father. “Here goes the Green Party!”
“REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW” went the bandsaw, and everyone cheered with delight as the ballots were neatly sawed in half. Just to be sure that he was doing his duty, my father pushed the stack again through with a two by four.
“Down with the Democrats,” shouted an exuberant member of the crowd. One of the poll workers duly grabbed the stack of Democratic ballots and ran it through the shredder, covering Caspar Road in tiny shreds of paper.
“American Independent,” declared another poll worker, holding a small stack of ballots.
“Republicans,” shouted the Bird Watcher, who had swung by the house for the occasion.
And so we went through the list, shredding ballots and piling them into a big cardboard box for recycling. Alas, the policy changed in the following year, and Ukiah demanded all the unused/spoiled ballots back. I doubt our theatrics were totally responsible, although they might have played a role in the decision-making process…