Fever, not from COVID, but from hope.
In Norwood, I sit amidst the yawn of morning, in my bronze Venza, a car as old as my memories. The lot where I’m parked is empty. An asphalt desert engulfs me. Where once prosperity grew from a GM plant, now retail and corporations rise up in the air like Lego blocks.
I am early for my Board of Elections training as a Precinct Election Official (PEO).
After slipping my 2020 absentee voter ballot into the drop box, my car instinctively veered toward a former bank building nearby. Thus, the vacant lot I find myself in.
In a nod to the latest Twitter trend, How it started. How it’s going, I look to my left. It’s the first office building I occupied, working in IT for Star Bank in 1989 straight after college. How it started. To my right, the Board of Elections building now spans the block. How it’s going.
I came to Cincinnati, the product of a conservative, Catholic upbringing. In our household, in our church, we didn’t talk about visions or values, only sins. My worldview was myopic, in comparison to today’s young adults.
The ghost from the garden level of this nondescript building haunts me. Shades are pulled down, like the blinders so many of us wear in our 20s. In front, steps to my former lower level office are visible, but in the back, the entrance my co-workers and I snuck in and out of, is walled off. All of these metaphors for my own ignorance back then.
Since I left, I started my own company, and a second. I married once, and married again. I birthed a son, and embraced three lovely daughters. I moved to Oregon and back. Seattle and back. Loveland and Over-the-Rhine. Despite the human losses, mine was a life of relative peace.
But now, the life I chose to lead is at risk for future generations. Choices I once freely made are threatened every day for them. To choose their life partner. What to do with their bodies. How to interpret and practice their faith. Advocating for friends and the health of our climate. To choose the direction of our country. I want to grant my grandchildren those choices as well.
This vision, the desire to be a good ancestor, the need to structure life around the kind of world worth inheriting, drove me here today.
I’ve moved my car to the BOE lot. A tall, lanky gentleman ushers me past the winding line of voters. I’m swiftly seated in a stark white conference room. COVID procedures have been ramped up. Plastic screens divide me from the next trainee.
At precisely 8 a.m., our instructor, Frank (not his real name), stands at the podium and greets us. We are only 12 — because of pandemic procedures. He exudes forthrightness and speaks in a confident and calm manner, attempting to do his work, given the enormous pressure of the implications of the pandemic, and the need to get this election right.
I peek inside the PEO booklet. Acronyms pop off the page like ABC’s on a kindergarten blackboard. Diagrams of routers and cables. Pictures of totes and caddies and tables and printers. No one is overwhelmed. We take notes with the seriousness of a scholar.
Frank takes us through the handbook, emphasizes how we work together as a team. We review security measures at polling locations and the importance of voter safety. I can’t wait to send this guy a pizza when the election is over. Safety also includes safety from the virus, a reason why dozens are in the queue for the polls while I train.
Some might think poll workers show up on Election Day and eat donuts all day. (At my polling location, I’m bringing the greens). But volunteers are assigned manager or deputy duties. They pick up supplies on Saturday. The rest show up on Monday night to calibrate equipment. We magically appear at 5:30 a.m. on Election Day and stay well after polling closes, to shut down our location. We drive away into the dark, turning into pundits after midnight.
During training, we break into groups. We read instructions to each other and assemble the equipment. We read instructions on disassembly. Every item is coded and categorized. There are checklists — for checklists.
When I taught classes on banking software, I teased, “You won’t blow up Russia by pressing the wrong key.” (I can’t say that now). The BOE has ensured we cannot do this wrong. There are so many safeguards in place that I want them to write the sequel to “What to Expect in the First Year of Parenting.”
An hour left in the class, we move to the operation of the ePB (electronic poll book). We enter alias names as trial runs. I play around and press a new button (nothing happened in Russia). Up pops a screen that was not part of training.
It’s not that I am not allowed to see that screen. It’s just not a necessary task to check off until before opening the doors to the voters on Tuesday.
Chills I have waited four years for run up my arms. Chills that travel my spine when the president questions the ethics of the poll workers and processes in the state of Ohio.
Chills as I type those words now:
I, Annette Januzzi Wick, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of Ohio, that I will enforce the election laws, protect and preserve the records and property pertaining to elections, and perform my duties as a Member of the Board of Elections to the best of my ability.
I can’t shake the fever kindled by this oath, and am distracted when Frank tells us class is over — other than the quiz. It’s open book, because we will have our booklets handy on Election Day. Some questions are multiple choice. Some are true / false.
I gather up my belongings, promptly head to the front of the class, and hand in my quiz. Frank marks one wrong. “Which one was it?” I ask. We debate the use of the article “an”.
I shouldn’t care. But I’m determined to get this whole thing right.
Thirty years ago, hope rose over the horizon when I ascended those garden level steps for the final time and drove away from Star Bank. There were better days to come.
Come Election Day, I’ll arrive before 5:30 a.m. I’ll rather be early and get this right. There are better days to come.