our shamelessly naked voting behavior
from the 11-15-1998 Daily Sparks,
got the call last Monday. The Washoe County Registrar of Voters office
needed volunteers for the night shift to handcount ballots. The nation
was watching. Would our work change the result of the closest U.S. Senate
race in the country?
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
unofficially led Rep. John Ensign, R-Las Vegas, by 459 votes out of
more than 400,000 cast.
When I reported for
vote-counting duty, I found a jute mill festooned with yellow tape reading
"police crime scene." Stone faced, olive-green garbed sheriff's deputies
stood at parade rest at all doorways, but rest was not on the agenda.
At that point, the
election from hell had run seven days overtime. The office looked like
people lived there, and lots did.
Soda cans. Chips and
crackers. Debris of all sorts. All the place lacked was a TV for Monday
It was disorganized,
chaotic and just plain fun. The people made up for the tedium. I saw
folks I hadn't seen in years, donkeys, elephants, Libertarian porcupines
and critters of lesser known political stripes.
I never tallied one
vote, serving only as an observer. In more than five hours, I worked
on a grand total of 40 ballots. Had a task force been funded to develop
the slowest, most cumbersome method yet devised by man to count votes,
it would have been hard pressed to top what I saw.
After an hour of training,
I got to stand in a dim hallway awaiting diversity. We often had too
many of one party and not enough of another available to form balanced,
three-member counting teams.
Haggard and hungry
party operatives were present from both camps, as were more heavily
haggard election officials barely able to stay on their feet. The party
hacks groused over every real and imagined slight which might hurt the
count against their guy.
To the hacks, it was
a pit of paranoia. They thought guys like me should morph into reptiles,
able to see in two directions at once. We were expected to look at the
actual vote as it was called from the ballot held by the guy to your
left, and simultaneously see the tally written down by the guy on your
right. My first scorer was a southpaw whose hand obscured what he recorded.
I switched to another team.
asked us supervisors to regularly move our heads from side-to-side to
assuage the bipartisan paranoia.
People suffered plain
old fatigue under the cruelly blinking fluorescent lights. I personally
corrected four errors, two by people calling out the vote and two by
those recording. Doing my duty, I had moved two of those votes to guys
I didn't like.
Despite the hassles,
I think the handcount was a great exercise in democracy. People acted
very conscientiously under chaotic conditions.
Anything which shines
a bright light on the system means that it will serve us better in the
I will thus not call
for the head of voter registrar Laura Dancer.
She inherited a system
put in place two registrars ago.
Dancer now possesses
invaluable knowledge of every nuance of the vote counting system purchased
by Washoe County in the fall of 1995. Whatever could go wrong, did.
She deserves the opportunity to fix it before the Sparks elections this
(By the way, no election
was changed. Both Ensign and Reid picked up votes, with Reid's margin
of victory shrinking to 401. Acrimonious recount expected.)
NEWT, NEWS AND NUDITY.
Now that Newt has been neutered, it's safe to watch the news again,
Last week came not
only the announcement of a settlement in the Paula Jones fiasco, but
also word of continuing local fallout.
A sobering memorandum
was recently posted by management at the Regional Transportation Commission
of Washoe County, the folks who run the Reno-Sparks area Citifare bus
system and CitiLift for seniors and the disabled.
"The recently released
Starr Report contains graphic details which are not appropriate for
discussion in the workplace," wrote transit manager Michael Steele.
"While the topic of
potential impeachment is of great interest to each of us as citizens,
in an effort to be sensitive to the potential for an employee to feel
sexually harassed by others' discussion of the graphic details in the
report, I must ask each of you to refrain from sexually detailed conversation
about this matter while in the workplace. Jokes and smart cracks on
this topic are not appropriate, just as sexually oriented jokes in the
workplace are not appropriate at any other time," Steele noted.
"Please keep in mind
that the Starr Report addresses a very sensitive topic, discussion of
which may be offensive to another employee. If you as an employee are
uncomfortable with the topic being discussed within your hearing, you
may ask the speaker to change the subject. If your request is ignored
or you continue to feel harassed by the discussions taking place, do
not hesitate to contact either your supervisor, department head, or
me," Steele wrote.
"As with any allegation
of sexual harassment, the facts will be investigated and the employee(s)
in question may be subject to discipline.
"It is critical that
this national crisis not start a crisis within Citifare. The best way
to keep this from happening is to refrain from graphic discussion of
the sexual details of the report and certainly not to make jokes or
wise cracks about this topic. I appreciate your cooperation in this
matter," Mr. Steele concluded.
What does it say about
the current low level of our national discourse when a manager feels
compelled to write what Mr. Steele wrote? Civil libertarians and constitutionalists
might well agree that this case calls for a modicum of good taste in
I think I'll have to
go back to watching non-commercial cable movies or the Weather Channel
this weekend. It's the only way I can make disagreeable free speech
FROM THE BACK OF THE
BUS. One Citifare worker, worried about any chilling of expression,
took the memo to his union's attorney. The lawyer's conclusions were
as confounding as all the rest.
On the one hand, the
warning in the memo was very good advice, the lawyer noted. Sexual harassment
law is subject to wide interpretation.
On the other hand,
the good advice is most probably a violation of the First Amendment.
Reminds me of the guy
who longed to meet a one-armed economist, the type who could never say
"but on the other hand."
One worker put it plainly
and well: "The bottom line is say what you will, but be prepared to
be responsible for what you say. Common sense must prevail here. Sexual
harassment cannot be tolerated in the workplace. However, the right
to free speech must be balanced with the right to have a workplace that
is free from harassment. Sometimes, this is a precarious balancing act.
Our harassment laws are still evolving," the Citifare worker noted.
Got a hunch video stores
are quite busy this weekend.
CURL UP WITH A GOOD
BOOK. Now that follytix is over for at least a few moments, we can get
back to the really important stuff, like great books, music and film.
I have been receiving outstanding suggestions since the September series
and am getting ready to expand our literary lists. Send your recommendations,
keeping in mind that we are working for a high school freshman who has
opted for home education.
The Starr Report has
not been nominated.
Be well. Raise hell.
Barbano is a member of CWA Local
9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 30-year Nevadan,
editor of U-News and
was campaign manager for Democratic
gubernatorial candidate State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano
has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.