Saturday, May 31, 2014

Failures and Disasters - the tale of Elections 2014 in Aachen!

 The place the magic (didn't) happen!
Where to start, where to start? I have been working for the local and European election for two months now and I love the job. Unfortunately, after the runoff election in two weeks, that job is going to be over. I want to write down everything that happened (or better: that didn't happen) and every lesson I learned but these two months were genuinely filled with more stuff than I could ever remember. Therefore, I don't really know where to start. Other than being my favorite job ever, mainly because I'm obsessed with politics and loved every member of that team, this election was a huge disaster. Nothing worked out! It felt as if higher powers were trying to prevent this election. Well, lower powers were also sabotaging. In a nutshell, about everything went wrong. I wished I was a journalist sometimes because a genuine report of this election could have made some awesome reading. As I'm not a journalist, I'm going to try to just give a little impression on how a seemingly awesome job almost broke us! At least nobody died (yet!).

As I mentioned in an earlier blog the employment of 40 people to conduct three elections on the same day was pure insanity already. That alone would have caused enough problems to threaten a successful execution. At the Federal Election, when I was still on the postal vote team, we had 20 people. This time they hired an additional 4 although the work that needed to be done at least tripled. Additionally, the ballots came out of print late, knocking off about a week of preparation for the team. So within two weeks 24 individuals had to prepare the postal vote for over 40,000 people. Instead of one ballot voters would now receive six, sometimes seven. That many ballots hardly fit in their matching envelopes. The postal vote team had hundreds of applications every day and no time to work on them as vot ers were wanting to vote at our offices up until at least 3pm every day when the office closed to the public. Once all voters had left real work only started. A 4pm end was inconceivable.

So one of my co-workers was texting me at 11pm one night from the office. I had left at 7pm after 12 hours because I felt I had deserved it. Needless to say, I felt really bad for leaving "early". The next morning, as soon as he came back, a new pile of applications was on his desk. From that day on I stayed as long as I physically could every night because the work never stopped. Ever. If someone finished their pile, there were at least 10 team members who had enough work left for two weeks. I wasn't on postal vote this time but my work was largely done so whenever I had a minute it was back to the ballots. These applications had to be processed at least a week before the election to give voters enough time to send them back. With normal working hours we would still be processing. Therefore, no work days finished on time. Our extra hours were piling up. All employees, whether they were on the postal vote team or not, were folding ballots and stuffing envelopes, even the boss. It was incredible team work, I was very proud of everyone.

No, wait a minute, I was not. There was outstanding team work and a few people sacrificing all of their time for this to happen. However, probably the biggest disaster on the postal vote team was a few individuals who took the job for the money, thought they'd be working 7,48 hours a day and not a second later (if that) and get paid for being present, not necessarily working. Those black sheep obviously exist sometimes, however, the work they were hired to do obviously didn't disappear when they found it unnecessary to show up, leave with thousands of applications on their desk or "didn't feel like" working. Their work had to be done by the select few who were responsible, hard-working people who realized that there would be no election if the whole team acted that way. The boss, a lovely man who was stressed out of his mind, didn't realize how the postal vote was falling behind to the extent where it was impossible to catch up anymore.

In the midst of this reality one of my co-workers came into my office on Thursday, three days before the election, and dropped the bomb. He had accidentally put the wrong ballot into 164 envelopes. Not only did we have up to seven ballots but they were different from neighborhood to neighborhood, and he had confused them. This could have happened to everyone, and I'm surprised it didn't. As if we weren't drowning in work already this mistake had to be remedied. Unfortunately, that meant all 164 had to be called and the correct ballot had to be delivered to the affected personally. At 2am my boss and his wife were stomping through the affected neighborhood with a flash light to deliver the new ballots. On Friday before the election I then came to work, looking forward to the first day after the storm, tired from not sleeping for weeks, only to find the electoral registry that I was in charge of over the last two months printed in my office. Not bound, not revised, just printed. After having done everybody's job over the past few weeks on our last general day it was me who needed everyone's help. I had 23 hours to do the task (who needs sleep eh?), instead it took six people a 12 hour work day to finish. Good planning! Thank you, team!

So we started into the election weekend with a lack of sleep, frustration, health issues in many cases and mainly fear. The press was all over us and it felt very much like the election would have to be called off if news of any more disasters would break. Saturday and Sunday were expectedly busy but we managed to get through them without any low-points. On Sunday at 6pm we then got ready to receive the counted ballots back at the Council, archive them and communicate them to the press and administration. Counting had only started at 6pm so no ballots were back before 9pm at the earliest. I'd been at work since 7am so naturally, I was dying. I kid you not, I have no idea what would have happened without coffee. I was shaking but at least I wasn't falling asleep. The phone did not stop ringing with bad news from the headquarters, and at one point we thought we might as well call it a day and do a reelection tomorrow. The last ballots reached us shortly after 2am so we basically hadn't even been paid for the last two hours because contracts ended at midnight. With the result we also knew that the malarkey would continue for three more weeks as a runoff election would have to take place.

Exceptional people!!!!!
I have now abandoned my job at the register and am back on the postal vote permanently as only 4 out of 24 decided to sign follow-up contracts. A team of four people will not be able to successfully execute this runoff election. People have stopped doing the jobs they're assigned to. At this point we all have to do whatever needs to be done. The boss is on sick leave (as he should be because he's more dead than alive), another boss started crying in front of me on Wednesday and the third one is unable to communicate and in a constant state of shock. My health has gotten away a lot better. Firstly, I'm 35 years younger. Secondly, I'm alright with stress. But most importantly, I still enjoyed the job a lot. However stressful it was I feel very accomplished and it's been fantastic experience for me. Additionally, I love that team! But I'd always rather work a horrible job than no job at all. So in the end I'm still very thankful! Tonight the team is celebrating on our first Saturday sans work! No spoilers but I think it's gonna be epic...

No comments:

Post a Comment