Newteuring our shamelessly naked voting behavior

Expanded from the 11-15-1998 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

       I got the call last Monday. The Washoe County Registrar of Voters office needed volunteers for the night shift to handcount ballots. The nation was watching. Would our work change the result of the closest U.S. Senate race in the country?


Election theft Y2K: 1988 warnings ignored

UPDATE — How Dubya can steal it again in 2004

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., unofficially led Rep. John Ensign, R-Las Vegas, by 459 votes out of more than 400,000 cast.

When I reported for vote-counting duty, I found a jute mill festooned with yellow tape reading "police crime scene." Stone faced, olive-green garbed sheriff's deputies stood at parade rest at all doorways, but rest was not on the agenda.

At that point, the election from hell had run seven days overtime. The office looked like people lived there, and lots did.

Soda cans. Chips and crackers. Debris of all sorts. All the place lacked was a TV for Monday Night Football.

It was disorganized, chaotic and just plain fun. The people made up for the tedium. I saw folks I hadn't seen in years, donkeys, elephants, Libertarian porcupines and critters of lesser known political stripes.

I never tallied one vote, serving only as an observer. In more than five hours, I worked on a grand total of 40 ballots. Had a task force been funded to develop the slowest, most cumbersome method yet devised by man to count votes, it would have been hard pressed to top what I saw.

After an hour of training, I got to stand in a dim hallway awaiting diversity. We often had too many of one party and not enough of another available to form balanced, three-member counting teams.

Haggard and hungry party operatives were present from both camps, as were more heavily haggard election officials barely able to stay on their feet. The party hacks groused over every real and imagined slight which might hurt the count against their guy.

To the hacks, it was a pit of paranoia. They thought guys like me should morph into reptiles, able to see in two directions at once. We were expected to look at the actual vote as it was called from the ballot held by the guy to your left, and simultaneously see the tally written down by the guy on your right. My first scorer was a southpaw whose hand obscured what he recorded. I switched to another team.

Election officials asked us supervisors to regularly move our heads from side-to-side to assuage the bipartisan paranoia.

People suffered plain old fatigue under the cruelly blinking fluorescent lights. I personally corrected four errors, two by people calling out the vote and two by those recording. Doing my duty, I had moved two of those votes to guys I didn't like.

Despite the hassles, I think the handcount was a great exercise in democracy. People acted very conscientiously under chaotic conditions.

Anything which shines a bright light on the system means that it will serve us better in the future.

I will thus not call for the head of voter registrar Laura Dancer.

She inherited a system put in place two registrars ago.

Dancer now possesses invaluable knowledge of every nuance of the vote counting system purchased by Washoe County in the fall of 1995. Whatever could go wrong, did. She deserves the opportunity to fix it before the Sparks elections this spring.

(By the way, no election was changed. Both Ensign and Reid picked up votes, with Reid's margin of victory shrinking to 401. Acrimonious recount expected.)

NEWT, NEWS AND NUDITY. Now that Newt has been neutered, it's safe to watch the news again, right?


Last week came not only the announcement of a settlement in the Paula Jones fiasco, but also word of continuing local fallout.

A sobering memorandum was recently posted by management at the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, the folks who run the Reno-Sparks area Citifare bus system and CitiLift for seniors and the disabled.

"The recently released Starr Report contains graphic details which are not appropriate for discussion in the workplace," wrote transit manager Michael Steele.

"While the topic of potential impeachment is of great interest to each of us as citizens, in an effort to be sensitive to the potential for an employee to feel sexually harassed by others' discussion of the graphic details in the report, I must ask each of you to refrain from sexually detailed conversation about this matter while in the workplace. Jokes and smart cracks on this topic are not appropriate, just as sexually oriented jokes in the workplace are not appropriate at any other time," Steele noted.

"Please keep in mind that the Starr Report addresses a very sensitive topic, discussion of which may be offensive to another employee. If you as an employee are uncomfortable with the topic being discussed within your hearing, you may ask the speaker to change the subject. If your request is ignored or you continue to feel harassed by the discussions taking place, do not hesitate to contact either your supervisor, department head, or me," Steele wrote.

"As with any allegation of sexual harassment, the facts will be investigated and the employee(s) in question may be subject to discipline.

"It is critical that this national crisis not start a crisis within Citifare. The best way to keep this from happening is to refrain from graphic discussion of the sexual details of the report and certainly not to make jokes or wise cracks about this topic. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter," Mr. Steele concluded.

What does it say about the current low level of our national discourse when a manager feels compelled to write what Mr. Steele wrote? Civil libertarians and constitutionalists might well agree that this case calls for a modicum of good taste in free speech.

I think I'll have to go back to watching non-commercial cable movies or the Weather Channel this weekend. It's the only way I can make disagreeable free speech go away.

FROM THE BACK OF THE BUS. One Citifare worker, worried about any chilling of expression, took the memo to his union's attorney. The lawyer's conclusions were as confounding as all the rest.

On the one hand, the warning in the memo was very good advice, the lawyer noted. Sexual harassment law is subject to wide interpretation.

On the other hand, the good advice is most probably a violation of the First Amendment.

Reminds me of the guy who longed to meet a one-armed economist, the type who could never say "but on the other hand."

One worker put it plainly and well: "The bottom line is say what you will, but be prepared to be responsible for what you say. Common sense must prevail here. Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated in the workplace. However, the right to free speech must be balanced with the right to have a workplace that is free from harassment. Sometimes, this is a precarious balancing act. Our harassment laws are still evolving," the Citifare worker noted.

Got a hunch video stores are quite busy this weekend.

CURL UP WITH A GOOD BOOK. Now that follytix is over for at least a few moments, we can get back to the really important stuff, like great books, music and film. I have been receiving outstanding suggestions since the September series and am getting ready to expand our literary lists. Send your recommendations, keeping in mind that we are working for a high school freshman who has opted for home education.

The Starr Report has not been nominated.

Be well. Raise hell. | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors
| BallotBoxing.US
Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive



© 1988-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and was campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.


This site created and maintained by Deciding Factors
We welcome your comments and suggestions.