Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Superliteracy (Nov. 5, 2008)

I am going to document [the] November 4, 2008, [election] in a series of short blogs instead of one huge one, as I fear if I attempted the latter, I'd never get done writing it. That said, the one thing that hauled me out of bed at 4:30 a.m., after not getting into that bed until almost 1 a.m., was the idea of superliteracy.

Yesterday, my voting district had 4,405 registered voters, of which over 2,100 actually voted. How many more gave up at the sight of huge lines, I cannot know. And I was the one in charge of making sure that everything got done right AND fast. You cannot imagine what pressure I was under.

I had my voter processing center split into four sets by alphabet, A-D, E-K, L-Q, and R-Z. I myself, as Judge, was handling all unusual situations, and so had a fifth line all to myself. As I looked around at my four sets, each doing precisely the same job, I was amazed to see that the length of the four lines varied immensely.

All day I was understaffed, but since I had voters in all 13 of my machines pretty much continuously -- which tells me that we sure weren't slacking in the processing of voters, in an overall sense -- the problem with long lines was not entirely up to chance.

Here's what it comes down to: On the lines where my staff were what I call superliterate, processing was much faster. What's superliterate? It's people who can read and process information much faster than the average literate person. The superliterate person can scan a list of 65 names and find that one particular one in less than a second. Just glance, zzzip, and have the name. The superliterate person can take a cardfile box containing 1,000 4x6 cards, and find one particular card in that box in under 10 seconds. The superliterate person can write down information in about 1/2 the time it takes most anyone else, the most significant task yesterday being to write down the names of voters on a steno pad. Two steno pads, actually. Given one name on a voter card, write down that name and a sequence number in both logs, in well under a half a minute, legibly, and spelled correctly.

I do not know how some people can do this and some cannot. Yes, I'll brag here, and say that I am one of them. One glance at the card, see it's Lindsey Schnenckenberger or Eleazarre Ubungutingu or Xinquan Jiu or whatever difficult or long or unpronounceable name, but in 24 seconds I will have written down that name in both logs, and spelled correctly, without having to glance again at the card. And yes, Lindsey not Lindsay, on that one, but the next one is Lindsay not Lindsey, and no double checking to make sure you have the name spelled right -- you just have it right, all the time, without thinking about it, and quickly.

Whoever out there who can do that, we need you working on the polls. Two of the lines had superliterate people working the books, two did not. Incredibly, one of the short lines had a single pollworker for part of the day, and kept it short just because of being superfast.

And how do you get people to be superliterate? By having them read and write a simply insane amount as kids. This is not something they learn in school. Parents make all the difference. Both my kids are superliterate; my own son worked the November 2007 poll with me. Recall also that we didn't have a TV in the house when the kids were younger. We have the Internet, but that's a lot of reading, and blogging is writing. Both of them can spell really well, when they bother to, though they aren't obsessed with correct spelling like I am. But having both of them fully literate by age 5, and able to read out loud just about anything with proper enunciation and inflection and pauses in the proper spot, by 8 or 9, set them on their way.

Superliterate people of the world, you know who you are. Please get in touch with your local election board! We need you!

1 comment:

bus15237 said...

Comments on the original 2008 post:

Stuart Strickland
OK, then, take this test: Get a clock with a second hand. Take a pen and two sheets of paper. Go to today's Obituaries. Start your timer, and copy the first 10 names onto each paper, such that someone else can read it. With perfect spelling.

I did it in 3 minutes, 8 seconds.

Stuart Strickland
Actually, I lied. I completed it in TWO minutes, eight seconds. I said three because I didn't think anyone would believe me if I said 2:08.

That's superliteracy.