For many years, I’ve been walking into the Gainesville 1 precinct.
Sometimes it has been as a reporter for either radio or newspaper. In more recent years, it has been my polling place.
When I walked in to vote in the primary runoff, I looked around and realized something. The poll workers who were there when I moved to Gainesville 30 years ago are gone. For years, Ben Carter ran things. The polls didn’t open at 6:59 or 7:01, they opened precisely at 7 a.m. There were familiar faces who would ask how I was doing, and later, after I married into a local family, would ask about my in-laws.
I didn’t immediately recognize anyone the other day. They were most pleasant and I accomplished the entire voting task in less than five minutes.
Being a poll worker is a job we don’t think about. Those machines don’t set themselves up. Someone has to be there long before the polls open and then stay until every vote is accounted for. They are paid a nominal wage for their work, as they should be.
Depending on the turnout, when we are watching the returns roll in, some poll workers are still boxing up voting machines and getting the precinct back in order for its regular purpose, such as a fire station, church or school.
What is amazing is how few of us actually turn out to vote. We have three weeks of early voting, including one Saturday. The polls on Election Day are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. With all of those opportunities, about 10 percent of Georgia’s registered active voters turned out last week. That was down 2 percent from the 2010 runoff. All of these numbers come from the Secretary of State’s office.
If you had a business and 10 percent of your staff closed up, you would either fire them or go out of business.
Speaking of the secretary of state, about 50,000 fewer voters voted in that race than for governor. The drop-off sometimes goes even deeper on a regular runoff. We will vote for governor, but not for our county commissioner or state representative, who actually has a great opportunity to impact things like how much we pay in taxes.
I have been voting since 1978. I think I have missed about three votes during that time. I think it is an important thing to do.
If you want to complain about your government, you should vote. For years, some folks would not register to vote because the jury list was derived from the voter list. That’s changed now and if you own property or have a drivers license, you are subject to being called to serve on a jury. They always talk about a jury of your peers. If you don’t vote, maybe your case should be heard by a panel of nonvoters.
Now, if the governing authority decides to put a highway or the county garbage dump near your house, you’ll march right down to the government meeting place and yell at the top of your lungs. You’ll have to ask one of your voter friends, which one to yell at.
We only do this voting thing every couple of years. It seems that with all that time, we could find a moment to let our voice be heard — at the ballot box.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear Sunday.