Friday, January 13, 2006

If there were an Oscar for best training video, this one would win

I've been hired to work a 16-hour shift as a deputy returning officer on election day. My job will be to hand out and collect the ballots at a polling station in Vancouver Centre. At the end of the night, I will be responsible for counting the ballots and reporting the results to the returning officer.

It's not as easy as it sounds. I spent three hours at a training session today where we were given a mind-numbing amount of detailed instructions. We learned how to seal a ballot box, how to register an unlisted voter and what to do in the event of a bomb threat ("Do not attempt to locate the explosive device on your own").

We were then treated to an Elections Canada training video on how to manage a polling station. If there were an Oscar for best training video, this one would win hands down. It had everything -- bad acting, cheesy music, lame jokes and a production budget of about $10.

The video starred an elderly woman in the role of deputy returning officer. Borrowing heavily from classic buddy cop movies like 48 Hours, a young black guy was picked to play her sidekick. We watched "Christine" and "Richard" head off potentially ugly scenes on election day.

Like when a bearded, shaggy haired guy in a leather jacket stormed up to the polling station and started yelling at Christine and Richard.


"Yikes," said the narrator. "Be patient but stand firm. It's not always easy."

Christine sprang into action. She was patient and polite. And she smiled a lot, which is something the narrator reminded us to do over and over.

"I'm sorry, sir. You'll have to go to the registration desk," she said.


Christine explained she would let him skip the lineup after he was finished at the registration desk. Suddenly, the man's tone changed dramatically.

"Okay thanks," he said and walked away.

The video was also full of handy tips. For example, if someone rolls up to the polling station in a wheelchair, we were told to "greet them the same way you would greet any other elector."

I was one of the few people in the room who had never worked an election before. Luckily, I was sitting beside a grizzled veteran of five elections who offered me some sage advice: "Bring lots of food. You're not allowed to leave and they don't give you any food or water or coffee. But don't put anything carbonated in your thermos. It'll get warm and explode."

The guy sitting on my left wasn't as helpful. He slept through most of the training session. Yes, we are the people who will be counting your ballots. Be afraid.

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