Shaun Xin Xu is unlikely to forget the 2006 election. For one thing, Xu got to experience more of it, up close, than most people, and besides, it was his first time around. Xu—born in Suzhou, China and now, at age 42, in his second year at UM’s School of Law—immigrated to the United States more than a decade ago. He’s been a U.S. citizen for just about two years.
And for more than 14 hours Tuesday, from 6:00 a.m., before polls opened, until 9 p.m., when the voting machines were stowed (along with all the completed paper ballots) in a hallway of St. Joseph’s School, Xu served as a Missoula County scanner judge. His jurisdiction was one of the four squat, gray metal boxes tallying votes from any of the five precincts voting at St. Joseph’s, and he never strayed far from his post.
Each time a voter completed a ballot, Xu tore off the numbered stub and handed the privacy-sleeved remainders back, offering an accented instruction—“One page at one time”—with a gesture toward the scanner. Occasionally Xu’s charge beep-beep-beeped its discontent with some element of a ballot, but mostly what followed Xu’s instruction was the satisfied whirr of consummated, optically scanned democracy.
“In general, the machine is satisfactory,” Xu assessed. “It is much better than I thought.”
In addition to his official duties, Xu expended considerable energy awarding oval “I Voted” stickers to voters and pint-sized future voters until supplies ran out around 2 p.m. As the evening wore on and the time between ballot submissions lengthened, Xu napped lightly.
Xu, who’s turning to law after a career in developmental biology, signed up to work the polls in response to a mailed solicitation from the county elections office. “I said ‘Okay sure,’” Xu recalls. “I was not expecting to get paid.” Of course, though, he did: $6.15 an hour.
But Xu got more than financial compensation for his time.
“I have never seen Americans sitting so studiously,” he said, gesturing to contemplative voters overflowing the packed booths and filling out their ballots on lunch tables left over from St. Joseph’s midday meal. “They are like kids taking a test.”
Like many, Xu voted absentee this year. Next time, he says, he’ll vote at the polls. “You want people to show up, have the environment, share the culture.”