Constable: Democrat or Republican, these election judges work together for voters
Chatting politely and chuckling at times, these two longtime election judges figure out they probably have been to the same political rallies.
Dianna Rushing, 67, a passionate Democrat from Palatine, was on one side holding her sign. Richard Townsend, 40, a fervent Republican from Arlington Heights, was on the other side holding his sign.
"I'm very active. I've done some Tea Party marches," Townsend says, noting he is a Republican precinct captain.
"They don't know how active I am in the women's movement," Rushing says of her fellow election judges. "We never talk about it."
Polling places, the location where politics are decided, are devoid of anything political. As passionate about politics as they are, Rushing and Townsend leave that all behind when they serve as election judges for the office of Cook County Clerk David Orr.
Rushing once told the husband of a local woman running for office that he couldn't bring his young children into the polling place because they were wearing T-shirts touting their mom's campaign. Electioneering, even if it's adorable, isn't tolerated at polling places.
"I've had to call the police a couple of times," Townsend says, remembering how one candidate refused to stop campaigning too close to the voting booths. "To me, it doesn't matter what party you are."
With social media, party affiliation can be all that matters. You might be tempted to share that Facebook post about how this election is the last chance to reject the corrupt, violent, evil imbeciles who are out to ruin this country forever -- until you discover it's talking about your party's candidates.
"The vitriol, on both sides, is tremendous," Townsend says.
Retired after 33 years as a flight attendant for a major airline, Rushing made a career out of smiling politely as she accommodated people with nasty dispositions, so she can handle voters.
"They are not my relatives. I don't have to take them home. I like that I'm doing my civic duty and being part of the process, and, hopefully, helping people do their civic duty," Rushing says.
"I like being able to serve, to help out," says Townsend, who notes that he does a lot of the lifting that older election judges might not be able to do. "To me, it's important that people vote."
They both agree that it is fun to see people of all ages, ethnicities and social status vote.
"One of my favorite things about Election Day is seeing all the veteran hats," says Townsend, who served in the Navy.
"I'm so excited about all the young people," Rushing says.
Both say they have forged friendships with election judges from the other party.
"I want to understand why they feel the way they do and vote the way they do," says Rushing, who gets some of that insight from home, where her husband, John, is a Republican.
"I like him already," Townsend quips.
Both Townsend and Rushing have been election judges since 2005. Rushing, who has two grown children and four grandkids, is scheduled to work 15 consecutive long days in early voting before toiling from 4:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Election Day, traveling between 15 precincts to make sure everything is working smoothly. A father of two, Townsend takes a vacation day from his career as a product manager for a medical device company so he can work from 4:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Election Day.
"It's the one thing that equalizes everybody. Your vote counts as much as Bill Gates' vote," Townsend says.
"When the voter comes in, we have no idea what party they are," Rushing says. She might help a person vote for Republican candidates whom Rushing has campaigned against, and Townsend could help voters elect Democrats.
Rushing says "the only time I get frustrated" is when voters admit to not knowing anything about the candidates and make decisions based solely on whether the candidate's name sounds right to them. "I really appreciate people who have done their research," Rushing says.
Townsend and Rushing already have cast their ballots. Election Day is all work for them.
"Our biggest fear is that we won't wake up on time," Townsend says.
Election judges put aside their political differences so that those on their side, and those on the other, can participate in one of the most important duties as citizens.
"At the end of the day, we walk to our cars together," Rushing says of the judges from different political parties.
"At the end of the day," says Townsend, "we are neighbors."