Polling for Profit

by Jourdan Abel | 11/8/01 6:00am

I never expected to spend 12.5 hours standing outside a polling location on Miami Beach, waving a sign and wearing a t-shirt declaring one mayoral candidate superior to all others. Hell, Miami Beach isn't even in my voting district. Then again, I never expected to be this desperate for "flow," as the hip Miami pre-teen set whom I babysit for refers to it. We will neglect to mention the history my state has with elections and polls and votes. Suffice it to say that one of my co-sign-holders helped an elderly man vote (literally helped him vote -- she punched his chads, if you know what I mean), and upon exiting the booth, he asked who that lovely man he voted for mayor was again. The answer: Elaine. He thought he voted for Elian. I am not making this up.

As the campaign people had provided us with no information about our candidate, I did a little research on my own ("Mom, who is this Elaine Bloom character?") and was quite pleased with what I found out: Democrat, good reputation, friend of my grandmother's from the Jewish Home for the Aged (the board -- they're not residents -- yet), and endorsed by a major PAC working to end discrimination in the county by supporting candidates who work to pass and defend legislation guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for all, including people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Mrs. Bloom also wears trademark pink suits. She must own a dozen. And, quite frankly, I like that in a candidate. Just imagine where we'd be if President Bush tried a pink suit on now and again.

So there I was, 6:45 in the morning, stationed at a Boys and Girls Club four blocks from the ocean. There were five of us supporting the pink-suited lady. The sign-holders (every candidate -- mayoral, commission, official Miami Beach bug swatters -- had them) quickly divided into two camps. There was us and there was them. The Pink Suits versus the Red Coats. Pink Suits: us five, those supporting the ballot questions to extend health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees, and a few other people running for Commissioner. We named our opposition the Red Coats because of the fire and brimstone ends they predicted for us at the rate of one extremely painful demise an hour. Reverend Fermin and his ilk wore hand-lettered shirts and stayed 50 to 80 feet away from us at all times, as if they would "catch" our liberalism by standing closer. About once ever two hours, the Reverend himself would stomp over and glower at us, say a prayer under his breath, and stomp back.

After our factions had formed in the morning, we were verbally assaulted by a woman with an American flag scarf in her hair (ah, the irony of the flag and misunderstood patriotism): "I don't vote for her! She only goes for the lesbians and the gays." As we were not given instruction on the correct way to respond to irate voters, we used our own judgment. Patricia, a fellow pink suit, said, and I quote, "Come on, baby. What's wrong with that? Wanna give me your phone number and I'll call you up?" She accompanied this with some kissing gestures and a coy slap on her hip. The woman huffed off to vote. And after she voted, she came back and said to us in Spanish, just so we knew she meant it: "I don't vote for her -- she's only for the fags and dykes."

Recoil.

We decided to enter into a dialogue, if you will, and she eventually said that one-on-one, she didn't have a problem with "those people." It was just that she didn't want to spend her hard-earned tax dollars supporting "that lifestyle." Besides, she said all we needed to do was "bring those gays to a good Pentecostal Church to be cured."

We hissed at her car as she drove off. None of us claimed to be mature. We were, after all, standing outside all day in exchange for cash. Making the world a better place was really just a perk of the job.

At the end of the day, when all the votes were counted, our candidate pulled ahead, but only by eight percentage points, automatically triggering a runoff election. The referendums to allow health benefits for the domestic partners of city employees passed, and Reverend Fermin received a whopping 383 votes out of just under 13,000 cast. And next Tuesday, runoff day, I will be standing outside a voting location, proudly hoisting my six-foot-tall sign and wearing my XL t-shirt. Yes, I will be making nine dollars an hour. But I will also be earning so much more. And if the Reverend comes by, I'm ready. Patricia loaded me up with literature from her church, explaining how Jesus accepted and loved everyone. Yep, that'll be me spouting scripture. Just call me a Jew for Jesus.