A Fire Drill and Voter Registration

I avoid politics here, a discussion best done in other places, but hope you’ll enjoy some thoughts about a recent Saturday that involved voter registration.

Last Saturday I went to the library, part of a leisurely weekend afternoon. It’s nice to browse for an hour and grab a stack of books, to have plenty of stuff to read for the next few weeks. I would say that it’s never been eventful – not the place for excitement after all, though they are repainting, which I think might be the first time in 20 years or so.

On the way in I saw a voter registration table set up. I just glanced at it to see if it seemed ok. Typically the library does well at making sure only valid groups are set up at the door. Someone asked me very politely if I was registered to vote, I said I was, and I walked on inside. I was thinking about it on the short trip up the stairs, not a bad way to spend a Saturday helping people register to vote.

I was almost ready to go when the fire alarm went off. I think everyone looked up, then looked down, thinking it was one of those 10 second false alarms where it gets quickly reset. It continued though,and probably 30 seconds into it library staff started herding everyone out. I was pleased to see someone from staff blocking the elevator and pointing people to the stairs (its on the second floor),someone else checking the bathroom, and as we continued on out front I saw more staff managing things quite well.

Out front everyone was clustered outside the door, then they asked us to move across into the grass to make room for the pending arrival of the fire truck. It was probably about 5 minutes total until the truck arrived. No hoses being unrolled, just a few of them going inside to check things out (I’ll admit to wondering how they do that – looking for smoke and obvious flames?).

So I’m standing there leaning on the book drop box, just watching, enjoying the sun, when a minor argument erupts off to my right. One of the volunteers from voter registration, someone visiting the library, and someone volunteering at the library are arguing about whether voter registration is non-partisan. The voter registration volunteer is explaining, somewhat loudly, that it is a non-partisan effort, but if the others want to know she’ll share her personal political preference. For a minute it seemed like it would escalate into mild combat and I keep watching, debating the appropriate strategy for intervening if it comes to that, hoping that they will all walk in different directions and let me return to more important matters – watching the fire department! Somehow they manage to reach a point where they are not entirely satisfied but realize that’s all there is. Shortly after that the fire department waves us back in, and life is back to normal.

Afterward I was curious about the “non-partisan” part and did a little reading, turns out Florida allows voters to drop off registration forms at quite a few locations, one of which includes any public library. Florida law also allows for something called third party voter registration – groups have to register and follow a bunch of rules, but there is definitely quite a bit of debate about what the rules are and should be. Most of the groups currently registered at with one party or another, which isn’t unexpected, but how do you get to non-partisan? I’m assuming (and expecting) that it means applying zero pressure about which box to check for their choice of political party. The group I saw seemed to be treating everyone respectfully and trying to do good, so I’ll call that a win, as much as I’m not sure having people fill out the form right there is a good plan.