On the periodic table, the symbol for the heavy metal lead is Pb, because the Latin word of lead is plumbium. Of course, back in the day, the Romans built their pipes of lead. I've heard one historian speculate that the fall of the Roman Empire may have been due to slow lead poisoning. However, the Roman influence survives to this day, since Latin word plumbium is the root for the English word plumber.

Just think: if the Romans had used Copper (Cu), not only could their empire still be in existence somewhere, but our plumbers would be cops.

Democracy By Hand

This past Wednesday, I went down to the Kitchener Centre branch office of Elections Canada and offered my services. I recommend that everybody do the same whenever an election is called; simply call up a local candidate's campaign office and ask for the phone number of the chief returning officer, then call the returning office, ask if they need any help, and then show up. They'll put you to work immediately.

Some time next week, registered voters will be receiving cards in the mail confirming their registration, their home riding, and listing where one can vote and when. The task of printing these cards is the responsibility of each riding's returning officer, who needs all the hands he or she can get to apply the correct mailing labels to the correct cards. Consider that there are over 500 voters for each poll in a riding, and over 200 polls in each riding; that's a lot of labels, all applied by hand.

I helped stick labels earlier this week, in a room full of other people, many of them senior citizens or students, just flipping through cards and sticking away. One would think that this process would be automated, but it's slightly more complex for a computer to handle, and the people are remarkably fast and efficient. The pay is nominal, but still a payment. Most people, however, seemed taken up by the excitement of it all, and the sense of participating in a patriotic duty.

Patriotic duty while applying sticky labels? It could happen.

While I was at the returning office, I put my name forward to help out during election day. That's the other time during an election campaign that Elections Canada needs all of the hands it can get. I've just received the call asking me to come in for a three hour training session to act as a deputy returning officer for one of the polls. If all works out, I will not only man the polling station table, but I may help count the ballots and phone the results into the central office (all the while surrounded by scruitineers from the various parties, I expect).

Yes, I am awash in geeky patriotic excitement. It feels good to be a part of the democratic process, and I am looking forward to election day.

In Kitchener Centre, at least, advance polls open on June 18, 19 and 21. Not sure what your riding is? Enter your postal code here and find out. Election day, of course, is Monday, June 28.

More information on employment during a general election can be found here.

Enumerating 1995

This won't be the first election I've worked. Back in 1995, I signed on for the provincial election. Back then, not only did I have to apply labels and (almost) man a polling booth (I had to back out when new employment commitments presented themselves; I sent my father in as a substitute), but I also did my part in enumerating the electorate.

Since 1997, I think, the voters list has been kept updated by income tax records and by people calling in and updating their information whenever they discover (just before an election) that Elections Canada has their address information wrong. Before 1997, voters lists were compiled manually, by men and women working in pairs walking up and down streets and driving along country roads, stopping at every abode along the way and asking people for their voting information.

This task paid well -- about $0.50 for every voter you added to the list. You could get about $200 for two days work, although you walked your feet off, and you had to deal with complete strangers. In this respect, the money had an element of danger pay in it.

It's amazing, when you knock on a door and tell people that you're with Elections Canada or Elections Ontario or whathaveyou, how many people assume that you're a campaigner for a political party, or a convenient representative of politicians in general and thus an appropriate person to vent at. Most people we met knew we weren't with any party, and gave up their information cheerfully, but this normalicy was punctuated by more than a couple doors being slammed in our faces, and one demented screamer.

It was discouraging encountering people who wanted to give up their right to vote rather than support any or all "evil" politicians, and it was more than discouraging encountering people who gave us the impression that we were somehow tainted by even participating in the process.

The credibility of politicians aside, the democratic process is all about ordinary Canadians standing up for the rights of other ordinary Canadians. The work of literally thousands of individuals is the grease that is keeping Canada's democracy functioning. If you detest what our leaders have done to you or this country, don't take it out on the process and especially don't take it out on the people who help maintain it. Use the process. Vote.

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