My inglorious career as a Scrutineer

I try to imagine what a hockey referee would say if told to leave the game in the middle of the third period….and then, to accept the final score without question. I think the answer would be “No.”

Some people are cut out to be Election Scrutineers. Their personalities and temperaments are….inscrutable, really.

They are calm, attentive, concerned only with the facts, yet not afraid to challenge in order to protect the integrity of the democratic process. Like an impartial hockey referee, they want only to see the correct actions taken so we can get on with the game.

I was a Scrutineer in the first election on which I ever worked. I was nervous, but the job was more tedious than exciting; by about 1pm I was so bored and also hungry that I took a break to run out for food. In a gesture of non-partisan magnanimity, I bought a dozen donuts to take back to the polling station for the other volunteers, whom I assumed would also be hungry.

I set the box on a table off to the side of the working tables and let the other scrutineers know they were for anyone who wanted one.

I was a bit shocked when, a few minutes later, of the Elections Officials informed me the NDP scrutineer had complained about me.

“What did I do??” I spluttered in confusion.

“She says you are too friendly, talking to people generally and, um, bringing the donuts in particular,” the EO stammered, blushing. Even she appeared to be embarrassed to relay the complaint. I took her point.

“OK,” I promised. “I will try not to be friendly, and for sure no more donuts.”

“Thank you!” she responded quickly.

The second time I scrutineered, the EO complained I was too pushy in approaching her desk to compare my voters’ list to hers.

“Rita, you are too aggressive,” she snarled at me nastily. Which surprised me, partly because I was trying very hard to mind my manners and also because the EO was my next-door neighbour, a woman with whom I’d been in constant contact daily for years.

“I like you, too, Sandra!” I smiled brightly. Then, I remembered not to be too friendly.

Managing a campaign in 2004 – when not yet everyone owned a cell phone – I got a frantic phone call from a woman who was supposed to be scrutineering in a poll nearby. She had had to find a pay phone from which to call me.

“They won’t accept my I.D. and won’t let me observe!” the woman was almost in tears.

“OK, I’ll pop in with copy of your form and vouch for you. I do not know why they are not accepting your form,” I replied.

I drove to the polling station, which was completely empty except for a lone Elections Officer.

“One of my scrutineers called me to say you would not let her observe,” I said.

“There are no scrutineers here,” the EO stated the obvious.

“I know. She left to find a phone to call me. What was wrong with her I.D.?” I asked.

“I couldn’t tell you that. There are no scrutineers here,” she repeated.

In light of events during the November 3rd American election, I have tried to imagine how I would respond to an Elections Officer who told me – in the middle of the count, in the middle of the night – to stop counting and go home.

Would I be friendly? Would I be aggressive? Would I have pretended nothing was amiss?

I don’t know. But I think in that case, the perfectly friendly-yet-aggressive Scrutineer’s answer should be “No.”

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