Memories of a Booth Worker


In a previous post about the election, I mentioned the people you see at the polling place handing out How-to-Vote cards. What kind of people give up their Saturday to do this seemingly boring and thankless job?

A long time ago, in a suburb far, far away from here, I was one of those people. I can’t recall exactly when I first did it but it would have been some time in the 1980s and as surprising as it may seem today I did it for the Liberal Party. I was a Liberal voter in those days and for a few years even a member of the party. In my defence, they were not such a right-wing party then as they are today.

I think that the first time I helped out was outside of my own electorate, the mother of a friend of mine was involved in the party and she asked or maybe I offered to help out on election day. Prior to 1984, the names of political parties did not appear on ballot papers so it actually was useful to have a card to look at if you were not certain who some of the candidates were.

I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about it the first time I went but I found that it was mostly a positive experience every time I did it and not always for the reason you might expect.

Liberal How-to-Vote, Divisions of Melbourne and Melbourne Ports
It was quite interesting to see how people would react as they arrived at the polling place. Some made it quite obvious who they were voting for or who they were not voting for by their treatment of the volunteers. Some would very pointedly refuse to take a card from one party or make a big deal of taking one from another. Others would hurry past trying not to make eye contact with any of us. Some people would take a card from everyone, either to be polite or so there would be no clue to their intentions, while others would politely refuse, saying that they had brought one from home or that they already knew how they were voting. The vast majority of them were civil, at least in my experience. I don’t know if other volunteers had people who were rude to them. I daresay it did happen. Although people were not as waste conscious back then quite a few did come back to us after voting and return the cards to be reused rather than throwing them away.

During the 1990s I worked at my local polling booth in Hallett Cove a couple of times. That was always interesting because I would see people I knew. I never made a big issue of my political leanings so probably seeing me there wearing blue was the first time some of them knew which way I voted. The only negative experience from those years was actually not at the polls but when  I was letterbox dropping for a local candidate that David and I knew quite well. A workmate of David’s who lived near us commented that he was surprised that David let me volunteer for the Liberal party. I was more offended that he thought that my husband had a right to tell me who I should support. David put him straight about that anyway.
Labor How-to-Vote, Division of Melbourne

One of the things that I did not expect was that the volunteers who were working for the different candidates would get along so well together. The two larger parties usually had a team of volunteers that changed throughout the day but the smaller ones often only had one or two people. Sometimes when those people took a break they would leave their box of voting cards unattended but one of the volunteers from the other parties would nearly always point it out to incoming voters in case they wanted one.

It was a friendly atmosphere, a bit of good-natured banter but also some good discussions between opposing factions which never got nasty. I enjoyed listening in on those.  One of my favourite memories is from that first time. It was a wet miserable day and a couple of the people handing out the Labor cards decided to get some hot chips which they shared with my friend and me.  Maybe it was because we were young but it was a nice gesture.

I found this photo online showing a group shot of volunteers from each party at a Victorian polling place during the 2016 election so it seems that it’s not so uncommon even today.

Group photo: ALP, Greens, Liberal and AJP booth workers with Liberal candidate Kevin Hong - Fawkner #Wills2016 #Ausvotes
Group photo: ALP, Greens, Liberal and AJP booth workers with Liberal candidate Kevin Hong – Fawkner #Wills2016 #Ausvotes Photo by John Englart (Takver) sourced from Flickr Attribution CC BY- SA 2.0

At the end of the day, you hoped your candidate would win but aside from the feeling of being a part of something I also felt hopeful that if we, the rank and file, could see the other’s point of view then maybe the politicians could as well. Some do, there are politicians who will put party politics aside to work for the greater good but sadly these days not as much as they should.

Further Reading:

http://www.prsa.org.au/htv_cards.htm

Author: Taswegian1957

Born in England in 1957 my family came to Australia in 1966. I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, where I met and married my husband David. We came together over a mutual love of trains. Both of us worked for the railways for many years, his job was with Australian National Railways, while I spent 12 years working for the STA, later TransAdelaide the Adelaide city transit system. After leaving that job I worked in hospitality until 2008. We moved to Tasmania in 2002 to live in the beautiful Huon Valley. David passed away in 2015 and I'm here on my own now but I have Cindy the dog and Polly the cat to keep me company. I currently co-write two Wordpress blogswith my sister Naomi. Our doll blog "Dolls, Dolls, Dolls", and a "Our Other Blog" which is about everything else but with a focus on photographs and places in Tasmania.

6 thoughts on “Memories of a Booth Worker”

  1. I wish our elections were on a Saturday. Tuesday is just so inconvenient and not all employers make it easy to take time off to vote. And so many states and cities make it hard to vote early or by absentee ballot. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Our booth people are not allowed to do anything but advise people how to fill in the ballot. No one connected to a party is allowed in the polling place. But I’m pretty sure everyone already knows who they are voting for long before they get there … except in local elections where it’s not unusual to not even know who the people running are or why they should get the job.

    Like

    1. I was watching an interesting doco the other night about a group of women Democratic candidates, contesting the Primaries. Our candidates get preselected by their party not by vote so it was different for me.

      Like

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