The business of ballots

Bo Gemmell

I didn’t realize what I was most thankful for this year until the Saturday after Thanksgiving: a year supplying relatively few bump-ins with signature snatchers.

These are the folks who loiter in public areas, confront you and greet you with a demanding phrase like, “Are you a registered voter in such-and-such county?”

If your life requires you to travel campus on foot, then you’ve had your fair share of confrontations with these socially conscious solicitors. They feed on our impressionable college minds and convince whomever they can to sign a petition to get some issue on the ballot.

Saturday was my first bump-in with one since last year’s presidential election – a period I’ll remember more for the annoyance of people questioning my voter’s status than for the election of Barrack Obama.

I drove my hometown friend to the grocery store and let him out in the parking lot. Before I could shut off the engine, I noticed the clipboard full of papers carried by a scruffy man in his early thirties. My friend left the car, and I carried out my initial plan of waiting in it for him.

“What’s up, bro?” the guy asked my friend. “Are you registered to vote in Franklin County?”?

Anybody who sees this particular friend would know he’s the last person to register to vote. He wears a ratty hooded sweatshirt, wrinkled cargo pants, shoes caked in dirt and he reeks of unemployment and diluted vodka. Anyone so disinterested in his own appearance surely couldn’t care about political issues.

My friend’s a good guy, though. He played along. In his most friendly voice, he claimed to be a voter and asked the guy what he wanted.

“Video lotto terminals, man. I’m just trying to raise enough signatures to get it on the ballot.”

“Well, sure!” my friend responded. “Must suck to work on a Saturday, huh?”

“Hey, democracy doesn’t rest,” the patriot said.

He then spotted me and came to the driver’s window. I shook my head to indicate my disinterest. He didn’t get the point, so I lowered my window. Instead of a normal person’s greeting, I got the usual, “Are you a registered voter i-“

“Actually, that’s really none of your business,” I interrupted. “But since we’re asking questions, how much do you get paid for my signature? Surely they’re paying you, right? You’re not just doing this for fun.”

“Well, uh, yeah, I mean, they pay us a little,” he said.

And then he walked off.

For years, I’ve lied to these people by claiming I’m a Canadian exchange student or a felon or I ignored them altogether. But answering with an honest question was even more rewarding.

To my surprise, he came back after bugging a few more people and told me he gets a dollar and a quarter per signature.

So if any champions of democracy read this and ever want my signature, just say, “Hey, I don’t care about VLTs, but if you sign this I’ll make a buck twenty-five.”

You’ll get my John Hancock with a smile. If I disagree with the political issue, I’ll just hand over two dollars. Honesty is the best policy.

Bo Gemmell is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].