Friday, 16 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Boredom...

There’s the type of boredom when you’re a bit jaded with life and are in a rut, then there’s the boredom of waiting in for a delivery which you were told could arrive anytime between 8am and 5pm (and it’s now 4.30pm), and there there’s the utterly mind-numbing, hair-tearing boredom of being a poll clerk at the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Now, as a poll clerk in political elections I’ve experienced tedium before. By 9am you’ve learnt the life histories of everyone else in the room, told every knock-knock joke you’ve ever heard and have now started to repeat yourself, however, at least with political elections there’s a chance that the general public will pop in every now and again vote for their favourite local politician, but this was boredom on an entirely new level.

The current Government, in all its misplaced wisdom, had decided that the general public ought to be allowed to choose who should oversee local police forces, without spotting the bleedin’ obvious in that nobody actually gives a monkey’s who’s in charge of policing matters as long as they can see more bobbies on the beat, get more criminals behind bars and can get an officer to attend when they need one!

To be brutally honest, even though the local council were paying me to work as a poll clerk that day, and had given me the obligatory 30 minute powerpoint presentation as ‘training’, I really was none the wiser as to the duties of the PCC and I didn’t even care enough to google it. Yes, I know I ought to care and it’s important that I have a democratic right to be able to vote for the person I deem to be the best for the task, and if I lived in other countries I’d be only too glad to be given a vote, blah, blah, blah…. but, with 4 of the local candidates being members of political parties, wouldn’t it just be a re-run of the local elections in May, with people simply selecting their political favourites, regardless of whether or not the individual knows anything about being a PCC? Who knows…

The general public were reluctant to come out to polling stations in early May, when it was spring, so I couldn’t see how the government expected to get anyone motivated enough to bother coming out of their homes in mid-November when it was always likely to be seriously cold and potentially wet. I must admit, I was having second thoughts myself during the training when we were told to wrap up warm and plan ahead in the case of severe flooding or snowfall!

After getting up at a ridiculously early 5.30am on the day, and slurping a cup of PG Tips (no stomach for breakfast at that hour), I made my way in the dark, cold, fog to the local Community Centre to begin my extremely long shift.

The Centre should have been opened by the caretaker before 6.30am so that we could begin setting up, however, two grumpy presiding officers and four p*ssed off poll clerks were left outside in the dark for the next 20 minutes until he finally arrived with a set of keys! Not the best start to the day, which only went downhill after that.

The reason that every local council now has to fork out to employ twice the necessary amount of clerks and officers at polling stations these days is apparently something to do with  the fact that during the last general election, a few people had to queue outside their polling stations and ended up missing out on their chance to vote because they failed to enter their polling station before 10pm (even though they’d had from 7am on the same day to do so or they could easily have applied for a postal vote beforehand to save themselves the bother of having to turn up, or if they’d known it’d be difficult for them to get there on the day they could’ve asked for a proxy vote).

We did get our first voter in at 7am on the dot, but it was another 40 minutes before the second one arrived. This set the tone for the rest of the day in which our table saw just 42 voters while the other table scored slightly higher with 64, a task which just one clerk and one officer could’ve handled with ease. It’s a good job we’d brought books, magazines and other distractions with us because we had ridiculously long periods of time in which we didn’t see a single soul. In fact in the final two hours not one person bothered to turn up, and the fact that there were no tellers on the doors and a conspicuous absence of anyone with a vaguely ‘vested interest’ simply added to the evidence of the pointlessness of the whole exercise.

Predictably, many of those who came in were clueless as to what it was about and who to vote for due to the complete absence of any flyers being posted through anyone’s doors beforehand and the lack of any real information generally available (especially to those without internet access or anyone who didn’t happen to purchase a local newspaper in the preceding few days), but all we were allowed do was explain about the actual voting process and that they should simply put a cross in the first column for their first choice and another cross in the second column if they wanted to select a second choice, and even this seemed to stump a few of them.

Inside our polling station at least there’s a cafĂ© so that there’s a remote chance of members of the public who regularly come in for a coffee after the school run, or pop by for a hot bacon sarnie, walking through to the back hall in order to vote; I can’t imagine how hideous it must’ve been for those poor clerks and officers stuck in mud huts on village greens in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately, we’d started to pack most of the gear up by 9.30pm so by 10pm it was simply a matter of taking down the final voting booth, removing the posters from the walls and helping the presiding officer with the last of the form-filling so thankfully we were out of the building by 10.10pm. On my walk home, in the cold, dark damp of a typical November night, I wondered how long it’d take for those counting the votes to complete their task. My guess would be that they’d be safely tucked up in their beds by midnight

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