Volunteering on Polling Day

On polling day I’ll be handing out how to vote (HTV) cards for the Greens. I’d encourage others who want to support the Greens to do the same, it’s not too late to volunteer, there’s always a need for more. I’d like to say a bit about why I do this, and my past experiences.

Firstly, I’d happily see HTVs banned. They don’t really serve any particularly useful purpose these days (apparently in the past ballots didn’t show party affiliations so HTVs were actually rather helpful), however as long as they are allowed then I will hand them out for the Greens since otherwise other parties (particularly the well resourced majors) get an additional advantage. Occasionally people accuse the Greens of hypocrisy on this issue, but as far as I’m concerned the Greens will achieve more by getting people elected to Parliament then unilaterally giving up HTVs and losing elections as a result. This isn’t a “win at all costs” mentality, just a matter of weighing up different factors. Ultimately a political party is about getting people elected to advance the parties policies, so helping out on polling day, the most important day for a political party, is one of the best things you can do. Before first volunteering I’d already been a Greens voter for a while but was frustrated at them not getting elected and felt that I had to do more.

So what is it like when you work at a polling booth? Even though I’d happily do away with it, I also quite enjoy it. It feels good to be taking an active part in democracy, and it’s good to witness up close how well our elections are run. The attitude of voters varies, the most common are probably the people who walk past without taking anything, or the people who take one of everything. It’s very rare for anyone to be rude to the volunteers, many people are friendly, and some even express appreciation for the fact that you are volunteering your time. I have always found there to be a good rapport between volunteers from various parties. People tend to not get into details political discussions, but just enjoy meeting up with other people who have a similar commitment and interest in politics. Regardless of ideology we all have in common that we are giving up our time because we care about what happens in elections. Quite a few volunteers are there because of personal connections with candidates as well, they’re not all hard core followers of politics and you can end up chatting about all sorts of things at quiet times.

At the practical level, all it really involves is handing out bits of paper. You’re not expected to be an expert on your party’s policies, or all the details of how preferences work or anything like that. If someone asks a question you can just answer as best as you can, and can always refer people to the polling officials for neutral advice.

Some people have ideas about the best strategy (be the first or the last to hand things out), but every polling booth has it’s own layout and voter numbers which determines how people will approach and where the volunteers might stand. I just observe for a while to get a feel for how it’s working and try to find a good spot where the maximum number of people who come in get to take one of my HTVs if they want one. I don’t like situations where the voters have to run a gauntlet of people handing out HTVs though some locations tend to inevitably lead to this sort of thing. You don’t want to be overbearing, but also you don’t want to be meekly standing at the back, basically try to find a position where the people who take one of everything are guaranteed to not miss out on yours, but also so the people who don’t want anything can get through easily without any hassles. Sometimes there’s a rush and you can’t offer one to everyone, I think that chasing after people is not a good idea but see it happen sometimes, you just have to accept that you might not give one to every person who comes through. The main thing is to be polite to everyone (voters, both on the way in and out, fellow volunteers regardless of who they are representing, and the polling officials), and enjoy helping your candidate do as well as they can. And go to the party afterwards too!

An Onymous Lefty has also posted on this topic.