Reflecting on last night in the federal polling station

I have been thinking about some things that happened at the polling station last night where I was a scrutineer. It has sat in my heart very uncomfortably… and yet also with a small amount of pride. Here’s what happened:

I have been a scrutineer at polling stations for decades of elections and have filled more sheets with my little bundled sticks of five than I can count (#irony). Conversely, everyone else from every party – who had sent representatives – was there for the first time.

I was giving the other delegates from my group some guidance on how to use the forms, how to tabulate quickly, what a spoiled ballot would look like, and just basic etiquette of how to behave when you are watching exhausted Elections Canada staff count ballots. At one point, I noticed representatives from other parties were edging closer to hear me. Initially, I was only going to speak to the people I was with, but once I realized I had a diverse group of listeners, I had to decide what I would do.

Everyone there represented a party whose values best represented their own. That meant anybody who wasn’t with my group had a different philosophy and value system than my own. I had the choice of excluding them – after all, it was not my responsibility to train other parties’ representatives – or I had the option to include them and make everybody’s life a little bit easier.

Elections force us to evaluate our values. We vote for and endorse the party that best represents our values. The decision to include opposing parties’ representatives made me question what my values were. Do I really believe in inclusion?

Or do I only believe in inclusion when it’s people who share my philosophy and values? (Ugh. Uncomfortable self-confrontation moment.)

My decision took all of five seconds to consider. I included the members from the other parties in my brief orientation and answered their questions. I then told them to call their own main office to ensure that the advice I was giving them was consistent with what their office wanted them to have. For the record: none of them did. (I don’t know what to make of that.)

In the end, our polling station stayed very late. We were one of the last to report or numbers. But as a result of working with members from other political parties, we were able to turn what would typically be a long night into something shared and (dare I say?) fun. It made the night go faster to have a genuine laugh over the same shared moments.

I have attended many polling stations over the years and this has very rarely been the outcome. Each political party guards their knowledge fiercely and the result is that we sit there as competitive strangers for an entire evening. We come away a little less compassionate towards each other as humans.

I do not know if it is right or wrong to help the members from other parties. As a political strategy, this is an uncomfortable evaluation in the light of the next day. But what I do know is that I have never regretted a moment where I have shared laughter with another person.

But here’s the big lesson: sharing a lighthearted evening with people who have different values than my own did not change the number of ballots in each pile. That seems significant.

Last night a group of strangers filled a room to share the workload of a democratic, fair election. In the middle of a pandemic, we managed to claim a small piece of a federal election with pride.

Perhaps my real takeaway should be this: regardless of political alliance or dogma, we should find more common ground and celebrate the times when we really are all in it together. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the good of the one is the good for us all.

Dressed in NDP colours with pride on voting day in Canada