Wednesday, November 5, 1997
Our parents can't mind
polls forever

The Cincinnati Enquirer

On Election Day, the forecast called for gray skies. But I could only see red, white and blue reflected in the eyes of Carl Ceo and Margaret Cupp.

Carl and Margaret are special patriots. They're poll workers.

Margaret's worked elections in Butler County for 35 years.

Carl is a relative newcomer to her precinct. He's only worked the first Tuesday in November since 1989.

Both say their job is a privilege. They get to hand out ballots and check off names. They are the greeters for our grand experiment in democracy.

What worries me is the shrinking number of people who share their joy and sense of duty when it comes to the hard-won privilege of voting.

Stick to it

Along with thousands of other Greater Cincinnati poll workers, Carl and Margaret got up WAY before dawn on Election Day.

While others sat in church basements or chilly hallways, Carl and Margaret spent their 14-hour shift in a drafty classroom. When the final vote was cast, they packed up the ballots for the big countdown. But not until the last person got a ''I Voted Today'' sticker.

''You have to make sure you give everyone a sticker,'' Carl said. The retired aircraft worker lined up six little ''I Voted Today'' peel-and-stick circles and placed them carefully atop a battered galvanized ballot box.

''Voters love those stickers,'' he said, affixing one to the lapel of a woman's winter coat. ''They're like kids with them. Forget to give 'em one, and they get all pouty.''

Carl fought in World War II and the Korean War. Two stints in the Army taught him something about the importance of elections. The wars took him to places where people can't vote. So, to him, ''it's an honor to live in a country where you can.''

He works at the polls for the same reason he fought two wars for his country. ''So we would be free to do this every November.''

Carl ran down a short list of countries where it's still not easy to vote, where armed soldiers guard the polling places.

Then he looked around the classroom at Hamilton High School, where eight voting booths stood against blackboards. No guards in sight. Just devoted people like Margaret and Carl.

Margaret - manager of a men's clothing department for Elder-Beerman - sat just inside the classroom door. She was in charge of the big book that contains the names of registered voters.

''On Election Day, you can tell people what you think by voting,'' Margaret said. ''No one can stop you. Or tell you how to vote. It's our right.''

She is aware that not all of the people named in the book will take the time to mark a ballot.

''Don't vote,'' she warned, ''and you're missing out on one of our great freedoms.''

''The way I see it,'' added Carl, ''if something goes wrong, and you didn't vote, you have no right to squawk.''

Help wanted

Carl is 73. Margaret is 72.

Many of their co-workers are of the same generation. Parents of the baby boomers, they are the people who saved the world for democracy and built modern America.

Someday, they'll be gone. A new generation of poll workers is needed. But, where's it coming from?

Margaret's not sure. She knows the pay - $72 to $120 for a 14-hour day - is not enough for some people. ''They want factory wages.

''And we're growing so much,'' she said of Butler County, ''we're always looking for new poll workers.''

So's Hamilton County. At my precinct, the list of registered voters sat next to a sign-up sheet: Help Wanted/Poll Workers.

''If you are interested in working the polls and would like to receive additional information,'' the sheet read, ''sign below.''

The sheet was blank.

After talking with Margaret and Carl, that empty piece of paper made me feel ashamed. I had to wonder: How old do we baby boomers have to get before we stop riding on the shoulders of our parents' generation?

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.