Have you ever wondered what happens to your vote after the polls close at 10pm? Obviously it goes to be counted – and you can see the counts being done on the television on election night, but inbetween?
Well I can tell you, because your friendly Deafstudent signed up to be a ballot box runner on the night of the General Election last week.
Since our local elections were doing three counts – national, mayoral and council – the electoral officials had decided to have the Polling Station officials drive into the building that we were holding the count in (a stadium), drop off the boxes, and drive out, in a big U shape.
The three counts were being held in three separate areas, on three separate floors, so runners would take the boxes to the relevant sections, with lift people ensuring the boxes went to the relevant floors.
I started at 8pm. Much of the early part of the evening was dedicated to organising us – with over 90 people in the team, this took some doing!
The organisers were fully aware that I was deaf, and very prepared – they had thought through all the potential issues that could arise (including the risk of being run over by not hearing cars coming as they drove into the stadium, and the fire alarm) and decided where they thought the best place for me would be.
Refreshingly, however, they didn’t tell me this – they just explained their reasoning, and asked if I agreed, which I did. This, I was really impressed with. There was no attempt, at any time, to tell me I couldn’t do this because of my deafness, or to turn me away.
I was put onto transporting boxes up to a specific floor via a lift from the ground floor, working closely with two other guys. By 9.45pm we were in position, and from where I was, I was able to watch and wait for the cars to come into the stadium. I had, almost, a ringside seat to the events and it was fascinating to watch the organisation, and each person click into place. Stadium staff directed the cars into the stadium, and election staff oversaw the entire process.
Polling Station officials dropped off the ballot boxes, together with a big suitcase with the election stuff in it (like all those “polling station” notices), and bags with unused ballots in. All had to go to the correct areas. The suitcases and unused papers were dumped in two separate piles on the ground floor. Ballot boxes, and big plastic envelopes, went to the appropriate floors to be counted. The big envelopes contained an overview for each station with information from their count, like how many ballots had been handed out, how many had voted, etc.
Slowly, cars started to pull in. By 10.15pm they were stretched down the street, waiting to pull into the stadium. The pace picked up, but at no time were we ever really overworked. Slow but steady was the word. The boxes themselves were plastic, not too big – even the heaviest was easily moveable. Big and awkward, but not heavy.
I was able to chat to the two guys I was working with. People were doing this for different reasons – some for the money (we got paid!), some for the experience, like me. Some because they wanted to do their civic duty. We all had hi-viz volunteer vests on, and official wristbands to mark us, for security.
I was able to chat to other people as well – election officials, stadium staff. There was no attempt to brush us off, and our questions, even though it was a busy night. I even chatted to the official photographer at one point (although I wouldn’t let him take a photo of me!).
By 11.30 the last of the boxes were being delivered. I took the opportunity in a quiet moment to sneak across to one of the count rooms to look through the doors. It was a hive of activity – piles of paper, lots of people slowly working through, with rubber tips on their fingers.
The pile of unopened boxes in one area showed how much they still had to get through – we certainly were not going to be any competition to Houghton and Sunderland South, who were first to declare at 11.00pm.
We are frequently told – Deaf people can do anything! Go anywhere! Well, on Election night – I did! There was at least one deaf person, doing their bit, with no rejection, no exclusion, no audism. I felt welcomed, a part of active, contributing society, a civic citizen. So radically different to how I feel when discriminated against, for example, at the jobcentre. If anyone wants to do this for future elections, I’d definitely recommend it!
DeafstudentUK (Blogging at https://deafstudent.wordpress.com/ and @DeafstudentUK on twitter) is currently studying for a Masters humanities degree with the hope/intention of starting a PhD soon. The blog has been established to try to reach other deaf postgraduate students out there – perhaps eventually to have guest writers and a closed facebook group. Please feel free to get in touch with them via their blog.
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