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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

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Yay! Election day! So, what does election day look like for the typical Chicago election worker? (NOTE: This pertains to the "average" guy — not the experienced hands entrusted with lists of city and county workers who live on the block — you get the point). This column comes in lieu of endorsement, which I am forsaking this year out of a general lack of appealing candidates.

3:30am Alarm goes off. Ha! You set it for a half hour earlier than you need to get up just so you could have the satisfaction of going back to sleep.

4am Dammit.

4:10am You actually get up, consider showering and then shrug it off. No coffee, that comes later. Pull on standard election day clothes — jeans, undershirt, shirt, sweatshirt, oversized jacket with big enough pockets to hold copious amounts of campaign literature, hat, gloves, ugliest possible walking shoes. Leave a note for your wife/spouse/life partner reminding them to vote and to get the neighbors to vote so that they keep picking up your garbage.

4:30am You wake up in your car, having fallen asleep waiting for it to warm up. Shit, it's election day!

4:45am Pick up doughnuts and bagels. Use napkins to get morning frost off of side view mirrors.

5am Meet up with other volunteers — or in many cases, "volunteers" — outside of local diner. This is your team. Buy everybody coffee. Because you're smart, you got the walk sheets — lists of voters, arranged by precinct and street, usually with their vote history from the last few elections — ready last night, along with a box of door hangers, palm cards and brochures for each volunteer.

5:30am First lit drop. Polls typically open at 7am, so you wanna be sure that before anybody leaves their house for any reason, they see literature for your candidate. So you walk your precinct this early, putting a door hanger on all your voters' doors (at this point, hopefully, the campaign has identified "your" voter and you'll only hit their doors; if your getting out the vote in a generally friendly precinct, where you can likely count on everybody to vote your way, you just hit every door.

7am Finished with the first lit drop, you hustle to the nearest gas station or convenience store for more coffee, because it's definitely very cold and you're very sleepy. Then over to the polling place; show them your poll watcher credentials, which allows you to stand in the polling place and monitor, and also to "pull the tape," or get a printed record of the votes cast, after the polls close.

7:15am Ugh. The worst part of the day: early morning door knocks. Ever wake up an entire precinct of people to remind them to vote? Not fun. But very necessary; before work is the best time to get people to the polls. So you knock once, wait, knock again, wait, tap on the window with your key, and then if nobody comes to the door, you leave a brochure. If they do come to the door, use your clipboard to deflect the coffee mug they'll surely throw at you; then ask if they'll be voting for your man. Offer a ride to the polling place if you have to.

9:30am First sweep through the neighborhood is finished. Find nearest diner (or sit in your car) and scratch out the positive and negative contacts. Your list should be considerably smaller now. You should…also…rememberrrrrr...

10am Wake up to find your coffee spilled all over your walk sheets and realize you were supposed to call campaign HQ half an hour ago to give them your numbers; do so — you're letting them know how many "pluses" (yes votes) you contacted who have voted.

10:15am Until the lunch hour rolls around, you got polling place duty! This means trying to stuff a palm card into the hands of everybody walking into the polling place, saying something like "Vote for Phil!" Or, "Consider voting for Phil!" Or, as I heard one poll watcher saying, "The other guy beats his wife!"

12pm Lunch. But not for you! You've got a team out there, and they're hungry. And you don't want them to wander off. Pick up as many Chicago-style hot dogs as possible, drop them off to your team at their polling places, salute, and then eat in your car.

1pm Second sweep. People are home from taking the kids to school, some people who work late shifts are waking up, et cetera. Pick up your now coffee-stained walk sheets and go after the voters you missed. For those you have numbers for, give them a call if nobody answers the door. This is a much more pleasant knock — usually the type of people you can catch at home on 1pm on a weekday are at least somewhat glad to chat with a grown up. You'll be pleased to discover that all those door hangers you hung at 5:30 in the morning have blown away. Re-hang!

2:30pm After calling your number of pluses to campaign HQ, time to head back over to the polling place. Palm carding again until the magic hour — 5 pm.

3:45pm You realize you haven't gone to the bathroom all day, and the 14 cups of coffee you snuck in between knocks just hit you all at once.

3:49pm Man, hopefully that pollworker didn't notice you sneaking behind the school to take a leak.

5pm Magic hour — 5pm. Your last chance, your last sweep. Your walk list should be much smaller now and you have to get your voters to the polls, by hook or crook. This means moving your car with you when you get done with each block, and offering rides to the polling place. It also means searching the eyes of the voters you talk to see if they're lying to you about having voted — look deep into their treacherous souls.

7pm Polls are closed. By this time, you should be back at the polling place, working the line of people if there is one. If there isn't one, watch to make sure extra people aren't being let in (or, in some circumstances, try and convince the poll workers that your people should be allowed to vote). Now comes the torturous (and awkward) process of waiting to pull the tape. You may as well call in some numbers to campaign HQ, although at this point it doesn't matter until you get that tape. This involves sitting around waiting — often with somebody from the opponents' campaign — while the poll workers figure out these infernal new machines.

8pm Finally you got the tape. Call the numbers into campaign HQ. If you and your team did your jobs right, you got a victory party to go to.

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People for Responsible Government / November 1, 2006 4:00 PM

If you are bringing out people to vote for Stroger, you should be ashamed of yourself.

contempo / November 2, 2006 10:54 AM

Aaahhhhh...GOTVing....or is it G-ingOTV?

Either way....aaaaahhhhhh....

amyc / November 2, 2006 12:56 PM

Good on ya for going above and beyond the call of civic duty, Richard. Having done pollwatching and election protection work in a couple of elections, I totally respect the folks who can do this sort of thing all the time.

clompie / November 2, 2006 7:01 PM

is there any real reason why i shouldn't vote for whitney?
as for my district, it's duckworth all the way. roskam sucks.

mike / November 2, 2006 11:29 PM

How about one for Virginia or Ohio in which Republicans stand guard by polling places in INS jackets, or in LA where white, rich actors' kids guide the hungry homeless and recently arrived Mexicans to vote for the Vegan/Animal Rights/The World Would be So Peaceful if Everybody Just Watched My Indie-Doc About Peruvian Indian Land Rights.

Vamos America!


About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

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