November 1, 2004 in City

She votes for a long day

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Liz Kishimoto photo

Election inspector Jeanine Fritz looks for the polling booths for the Christ Lutheran Church precinct in the Spokane County elections office.
(Full-size photo)

Early Tuesday, just two hours after the bars have put an official end to Monday night and long before sunrise, Jeanine Fritz will roll out of bed and shower, put on her makeup, slip into her best red, white and blue ensemble and head to the polls.

If the doors still are locked when she gets there, she’ll wait. If they’re open, Fritz will go inside, pull up a chair and stay until Washington decides whom it wants for president. She’ll make sure there’s no funny stuff, no voting early and often, no campaigning in the parking lot. Denial’s not a river in Egypt? Well, chad’s not a lake in Africa.

Fritz is election inspector for Precinct 4419, whose voters cast ballots at Christ Lutheran Church at 13009 E. Broadway Ave. in Spokane Valley. She’s had the job for 20 years.

“When I volunteered, I didn’t even know I got paid,” said Fritz, who begins gearing up for an election the Thursday before. “A lot of our workers didn’t know they’d get paid when they volunteered.”

The pay is only minimum wage.

Maybe the homemade lefse and pies keep them coming back.

Election Day at Fritz’s precinct unfolds like a desert bloom. Normally sleepy Tuesdays in the cavernous church give way to a bake sale in the hall outside the polling area. Caramel rolls baked on the premises the day before by a group of Lutheran quilters sweeten the air.

Voters frequently stop to reserve a dessert before proceeding to weigh in on candidates and referendums.

The voters come in waves. Precinct 4419’s first two voters every year are a man and woman who wait outside for the polls to open at 7 a.m. as if ballots were in short supply. The ballots are numbered, and they want 1 and 2. Then come the mothers fresh from dropping children off at school, then the workers on their lunch hour.

In between voters, Fritz catches up with her fellow volunteers. She knows most of them only from working elections, but it’s always the same crew. They pick up their conversations where they left off at the last election. Often children have been married or babies have been born in the meantime.

Sometimes the volunteers will crack a book if things are slow enough – a mystery maybe, but nothing political. The rules of impartiality prohibit the volunteers from discussing politics even with willing voters.

Volunteer Patsy Opsal is the one poll worker Fritz visits with throughout the year. Opsal is the facilitator judge, charged with making sure things run smoothly, an official witness to the correctness of the process. She recruited Fritz for election work five or six presidential elections ago. Christ Lutheran is Opsal’s church. She brings the keys to let everybody in and get things started.

“I think it’s empowering for people to vote. That’s what our country is based on. I think it shows the American spirit,” Opsal said. “I enjoy watching the kids who show up with their parents to watch them vote. We’re happy to let them.”

Opsal and Fritz are the first to arrive and the last to leave after accounting for every ballot. Fritz tallies up the unused ballots and the spoiled ballots incorrectly marked by voters, who are issued new ones. She counts the signatures in the registration book to make sure they match the number of ballots cast.

If all goes well, the two will be home an hour after the polls have closed at 8 p.m. It’s a long day for Fritz and her crew.

At home, the election inspector opens a cold beer, parks herself on the couch and turns on the television to see if there’s any clue yet who may have won. It is the first time she really thinks about how the vote may have gone, but usually she’s fast asleep before the results come in and before her beer is half-empty.

Her husband typically pushes her over on the couch, leaving her there until morning in her red, white and blue suit.


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