The first time I worked as an election worker was the 1960 presidential primary. I passed out flyers for a Republican congressional candidate outside Permian High School in Odessa, Texas.
It was a deep dive into the rigors of losing campaigns. Over the next several years, I was re-baptized just about every election cycle. My family was Republican in the deep blue corner of yellow dog Texas oil country.
I changed parties only when my Waco precinct decided then Senator John Tower, the first Republican to win a statewide Texas office since Reconstruction, was too liberal. Timing is everything.
It was 1980 and Ronald Reagan was elected president. After that, I steered clear of party politics, but I continued to vote mostly for losing candidates.
Each time I went to vote, it seemed to me that the election workers were having a lot of fun. So, when the opportunity came for me to work a primary election, I jumped at the chance.
Again, timing is everything. It was March of 2020.
We masked up and compulsively disinfected everything repeatedly. We made sure to stand six feet away from everybody and shouted instructions from behind plastic shields. We arrived while it was still dark to open on time and left in the dark at the end of the day.
I can’t speak for elections elsewhere. But I can tell you about my experience in Dallas County, Texas.
Election workers are mostly retirees with a sprinkling of high school and college students. We are Republicans and Democrats, recruited by the local parties. We don’t say which party we are a member of.
This summer, I’ve taken time to reflect on the condition of our state, our country, and our world. It is not a pretty picture.
Even when it seems things cannot possibly get worse, they do. Russia’s war on Ukraine turns wheat fields into minefields and creates the conditions for starvation in Africa.
Boatloads of refugees drown in the Mediterranean. Great fires in the American southwest are old news. But now it’s Canada and Hawaii.
The once surging Colorado River looks like a west Texas stream bed in the dry season.
Our economy is strong, but the poor get poorer anyway. We’ve grown accustomed to the mistreatment of immigrants, persons of color and the gender diverse.
Baylor, my alma mater, sought and received a federal religious exemption. This protects the Baptist university from prosecution in cases of harassment experienced by students who don’t fit its biblically based sexuality standards.
The crises and catastrophes are so overwhelming and incessant that our minds are numbed, and our energies completely spent. It is all just too much and seemingly impossible to respond to them all.
But in the midst of my confusion and despair a Bible verse from childhood whispers a word of hope and encouragement: “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
As I ponder the whispered answer to my frenzied question, ideas begin to form. God will do God’s part, but the Creator leaves room for us to do our part in restoring and caring for our precious planet Earth. So, then the question becomes, what can I do?
One answer to my question takes me back to the reality of our election process and the responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic republic. Leadership matters. And leadership begins in every precinct and township across our nation.
At the local level, do you pay attention to the candidates for city and county offices, the promises they make publicly and the alliances they make privately? If you do not and cannot believe your local leadership is working with integrity and diligence in the best interests of your community, what is your responsibility to make the situation better?
I choose to work elections. Some people doubt the integrity of our elections. I am from Texas, after all!
If you aren’t already familiar with the murky waters surrounding the election of Lyndon Johnson to the U.S. Senate in 1948, look up “The Mystery of Ballot Box 13” by Dan Balz. It was published on March 4, 1990, by The Washington Post.
Nevertheless, my experience having worked in and around elections for much of my life is that election workers take elections seriously and work hard to make them fair and trustworthy.
Sitting in my mental ash heap, I remember God is doing God’s work creating possibilities and opportunities that we cannot even imagine. I believe the Spirit is doing the Spirit’s work of calling people, you and me, to work in the ways we have been gifted to benefit all creation. I believe the risen Savior is empowering ordinary followers to redeem the time we have and the times in which we live in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.
Working elections, this I can do. Look at your hands. What is there for you to do?