A day in the life of a polling booth volunteer

Just over a week since the Victorian Election, polling booth volunteer Jack Howes reflects on how the day panned out for him…and isn’t so sure he will ever do it again.


Things were different last week. It was a different time, we were a different people. The East-West Link was still a thing. Matthew Guy was a State minister. Christopher Pyne was, well, the less we say about him the better. In this light I stepped into the breach, determined to give this whole democracy thing a go. I woke pretty bloody early, packed my things, and headed off in time to see the hambeast charging towards the sausage sizzle.

The sign reading “Halal sausages – $2.50” seemed to give him slight pause for thought. Steeling himself, he plowed ahead undaunted. Returning, walrus moustache quivering with excitement, he chomped down on the sausage in his left hand with relish.

“Yep, they’re cooked through.”

The poor Greens lady next to me looked like she was about to throw up.

“Well…that’s something I suppose.”

He grinned in return. A stray piece of onion clinging to his moustache, a smear of mustard swiped across his bottom lip.

It was 9:15 in the morning, the start of a very weird day.

I was one of those poor bastards on Saturday. The polling booth volunteers you come to dread as a voting adult. The looming crowd of malcontents getting all up in your grill to shove how-to-vote cards in your hand as you do your best to avoid eye contact. I plead innocent insomuch as I was doing it to help out an old family friend running as an independent, nonetheless, I was there.

As a polling booth volunteer, you stand around, rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, considering the grim reality of democracy in action, doing your best not to check the time on your phone, dreading that the two hours that have passed in your head have been a measly 17 minutes in reality.

Before long you start to get a feel for the thing though, you start spotting the types. Of course, party workers almost all wear shirts declaring their allegiance, but still.

The Labor polling booth volunteers tend to typically be a middle-aged unionist, or youthful apparatchik dreaming of his or her place in the party machine. They fancy themselves as either Malcolm Tucker or Josh Lyman, even occasionally as an ungodly hybrid of the pair. They huddle together and discuss preference deals in voices just loud enough to carry.

The Greens are invariably sprightly grey-haired women or artfully scruffy 20-somethings. Decent enough to chat to, if consumed by smugness and moral superiority. They aren’t super wired in to the party machine, they’re just happy to help, man.

The one Liberal polling booth volunteer I saw was a diminutive figure of indiscriminate age, gender and race. They kept themselves removed from all the other workers. It was odd, although, given it was a relatively inner-north voting station, perhaps to be expected.

Sex Party types tend to look like Sex Party types. Vaguely malnourished and pale-looking, as though they’d spent a good deal too much time indoors. Friendly, if oddly predisposed to wearing chopper sunglasses.

The voters themselves were about as normal as you could possibly expect. One weird unit in a bucket hat, socks, and sandals, accosted me over the preference deals of my candidate. I replied that I had no idea, at which point he demanded I stop. Later an elderly lady become very excited when she thought I was working for Palmer. Her excitement turned to something resembling dismay when I looked appalled and quickly disabused her of the notion.

After five hours, the sun having dealt some not inconsiderable damage to my paleface skin, I gave it up.

An exciting adventure in democracy…and one I’m not exactly keen to repeat.

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