Canada’s Election took place this past Monday and I worked at a Polling Station. I knew going in it was going to be a 14 – 18 hour day and even though it was a serious task, I was determined to have a little fun. Most of the day went smoothly; yet I walked away with sadness, even bitterness about the behaviours that I found disappointing. To what could I possibly be referring? I have come to the revelation that many people are prejudice. It’s subtle, but it’s clearly there. Let me explain…
I worked as a Poll Clerk accompanying a Deputy Returning Officer. Although most voters don’t know, the two roles are quite different. The Deputy Returning Officer is ‘in charge’ of the polling station. Generally, the Deputy Returning Officer is the interface with the voter and the Poll Clerk merely administrative doing all the paperwork. My Deputy Returning Officer happened to be a well-groomed, neatly-dressed, educated man who immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh 6 years ago. He was pleasant, intelligent and well-spoken.
In the first hour of the poll, every single voter made eye contact with and greeted me rather than my partner. When he asked for their ID, most of them handed it to me instead of him. Noticing this, as people approached our table, I started to bow my head and focus on the paperwork. It didn’t make a difference. They still placed their ID in front of me rather than him. If they had a question, they directed at me instead of him. This continued throughout the day. By the evening, when it got busy, I gave up on not responding to them as I didn’t want to appear rude; but it bothered me and I continued to be aware of the behaviour until the polls closed.
The only difference between the two of us was the colour of our skin. Close to 100% of the voters at my poll were Caucasian. I only remember one that was not. At first I thought maybe I just looked friendlier. I am in my 60s, whereas my partner was in his 30s; so maybe it was an age thing? Every single voter (there were over 250 at my particular poll) dealt with me and only dealt with my partner when I didn’t answer, ignored them or in some cases motioned to him with my hand. No one said anything offensive. It was subtle, but obvious to me. I don’t even think the voters noticed they were behaving in this manner.
At the end of the night, I walked away from the poll, knowing that it didn’t matter that my poll partner was an intelligent, capable person who carried out his duties well. The people chose to interact with me rather than him. We may say we are an inclusive society. We may vote for politicians who say they represent equality and want immigrants to come to Canada. We may not be overtly rude or condescending. It is clear to me, however, that prejudice runs deep here. I saw it with my own eyes. I am saddened and disgusted.