Saturday, December 2, 2017

When to Bend the Rules by J. S. Marlo

Most publishers have one thing in common. They like unusual settings or characters. To be honest, it never occurred to me an election office could be considered an “unusual” setting. I worked Canadian elections for more than twenty years—inside polling stations and election offices—and they hold no secrets for me, but then it struck me how often strangers had asked “What do you do in there for two months?”

Well, we perform many different tasks, and in northern and remote districts, these tasks are wrapped in a few extra layers of complications. We have to find polling stations in the middle of nowhere and secure leases. We often have to order our ballots through out-of-town printers, wait to receive them, and then rush to deliver them to these polling stations by car, by plane, by helicopter, by boat...or by snowmobile. It takes days to reach all the stations—and longer if the weather isn’t cooperating. We fear winter elections and snowstorms. If our fax machine dies, it takes a week to get a new one, and we can’t function without a fax for a week—we tried, but we ended up borrowing one from a school. We hire 400 to 600 workers, train them in a few weeks, and pray to every God that they will show up to work on Election Day. We register electors, update their information, and let any eligible electors vote in the office ahead of time even if they don’t live in our district. Did I forget to mention every task is governed by a series of rules? There are even rules about rules. And don’t get me going about the paperwork we have to fill and the authorizations we have to obtain.

Many years ago, on the last evening of special voting, an elector came in our election office. He didn’t live in our district—he lived seven provinces and four time zones away—and his driver’s license listed a post office box, not a real physical address. We need a real address to place the elector in the right district. I suggested a utility bill—gas or electrical bills always mention the address of the dwelling for which the service is provided—but he didn’t carry any with him. As you can imagine, there are rules about acceptable documents an elector can show to vote. We went through the list of documents twice, but he didn’t have any of them with him. The man really wanted to vote, and above all, we have to ensure that every eligible elector is given the opportunity to vote.

In the spirit of “giving him the opportunity to vote”, I asked him to Skype his wife back home in front of me. It was midnight over there and he woke her up.  She rummaged through the kitchen drawers in her nightgown looking for a bill. She was a good sport, and once she found a utility bill, she showed it to me. The name of her husband was on it along with the physical address of their home. The elector received a ballot—and he owed his wife a dozen roses.

On a different occasion, we lost a remote polling station a couple days before the election. An elderly person had died, and the wake and funeral were taking place inside the community hall we’d leased. We struggle to find an empty place. In normal times, every polling station has to be pre-approved and meet a long list of requirements before we can use it. If the place doesn’t meet all these requirements, we need to request a special exemption. In the end, the only place available in the small village was a lodge without running water. The toilet was an outhouse behind the lodge. Needless to say, we didn’t have time to fill any paperwork or request any exemption. The two workers who manned that polling station for thirteen hours on Election Day went above and beyond the call of duty.

During the course of an election, many challenging situations arise and decisions must be made. Returning officers are dedicated men and women who sometimes are caught between a rock and a hard place and forced to bend certain rules in order to fulfill their obligations. Problems are rarely black and white, but we all do our very best to solve them the right way.

In my latest novel “Voted Out”, Thomas is a devious, sleazy, and despicable returning officer, the type of character you wouldn't encounter in an election office. I had a blast creating him. He doesn’t bend a few rules to get the job done, he breaks as many as he can for his enjoyment and personal gain. He crosses all the lines for all the wrong reasons. And he doesn't get caught...or does he?

“Voted out” is a romantic suspense that takes place inside an election office. It’s a tale of betrayal, deceit, extortion, blackmail, sex, murder, justice, integrity, dedication, passion, and love. It will make you laugh, growl, blush, shake your head, pull your hair, and leave you guessing until the last chapter.

Warning: this author assumes no responsibility if you stay up all night reading.

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