The great cowboy-philosopher Will Rogers once said, “The problem isn’t what people don’t know, it’s what they ‘know’ that ain’t so.”
That’s one of the main lessons from the Battle of Kiwanisland. The other lesson is being right doesn’t make you “right.”
As is my custom, I headed off to a polling place on Election Day to take some photos of democracy in action; you know, folks casting their ballots. You’ve seen these photos in newspapers and video on TV news. They’re as commonplace as politicians kissing babies and asking for money.
But when I showed up at my own polling place to snap a few photos, I ran into a buzz saw. The two elderly people running the show objected to me being there taking photographs. “You can’t do that!” I was told. “It’s against the law!”
What? I’ve been doing this since Jimmy Carter ran against Jerry Ford. Folks are usually flattered by the attention. A heated discussion followed, punctuated by comments like “Call the cops” and “Get your hands off me!”
They insisted that there was some regulation banning photographers from a polling place. I demanded to know which law or regulation that was. I had never heard of one, and if there was, I (and every news organization in America) was the worst kind of serial offender, since I was told it was “a federal law.”
Well, applesauce. That’s not true. But calls were placed to the police and to the county registrar of voters, who certainly had better things to do then referee a spat between an ink-stained wretch and two Golden Years poll officials.
While were we waiting for The Officials to arrive, I started to feel a little silly. Sure, I was right, but I had already snapped my photos. I could have just glided out and saved everyone a lot of shouting.
I probably would not have been so adamant about it it had not been for something that had happened a few weeks prior. I teach journalism at Golden West College and advise the student newspaper.
Turns out that some student government types stopped our photographer from taking photos of the homecoming ceremony (yes, some colleges still have them) because of some imaginary “liability” issue.
The student eventually apologized, but the idea of misinformed people trying to curb the freedom of the press to report on public events was still on my mind.
Although the news media (like sports officials) are a convenient punching bag, we serve as a surrogate for the public. We are the watchdogs who keep an eye and things and who can (sometimes) tell you when something’s not right.
But still …. So I started talking to the husband (Jim was his name; great name!). We chatted about his classic car (a Model A Ford, I believe) and emotions calmed. Nothing will sooth a man more than to compliment his vehicle. Instead of seeing each other as enemies, we found a point of common interest and were almost friendly.
Eventually, the police arrived. Two young-ish Garden Grove officers who clearly did not want to be there. The lead officer first said, “Well, I think there might be some kind of regulation …” but could not identify what it might be. Then he said, “Wait. I’ve seen this sort of thing on TV all the time.”
I was busy nodding and “aha”-ing when an official from the registrar’s office showed up, along with an entourage. “He has every right to be here,” said the official. The only rule about photography says you can’t photograph a ballot in use, which I was clearly not doing.
The official headed into the polling place to “counsel” the poll workers. I waved to the officers (who were unfailingly polite and glad they didn’t have to cuff the editor of the local newspaper) as they drove away.
I got to thinking. The whole thing took about 90 minutes. I could have finished it up in 10. I stood on principle, but I also made a big hassle for two older people who volunteer their time to keep the election process going. Maybe they’ll get disgusted (or embarassed) and stop donating their time.
Maybe I should have handled it all with a joke and a smile. That’s what Will Rogers would have done.