All of my readers are no doubt aware of the November 6th election that recently took place across the nation. Hopefully, everyone who was legally eligible to vote did so provisionally, vote by mail, or at the polls. Unfortunately my age prevented me from participating in the election as a voter; however I was still able to fulfill my civic duty by becoming an election official. This opportunity allowed me not only to gain some insight into the voter experience, but more importantly to be involved behind the scenes. There much work that has to be done before, during, and after the thirteen hours when the polls are open. Voters, as with any public service in their lives, expect everything to magically be done and to be perfect for them and them alone. Were it not for the thousands of student and adult volunteers who give up their time to become poll workers, the democratic process would come to a screeching halt. I in no way however wish I had not worked during Election Day. It was an excellent experience and something I encourage all my readers, adults or students, to participate in. Working on Election Day gave me a new appreciation for all public servants and indeed our very democratic way of life.
Being an election official means that you are not only an agent of the people, but the United States Government as well. And whenever the government is involved it entails constant paperwork, loyalty oaths, and proper protocols when interacting with voters and their ballots. Voting is taken very seriously in our country and the rules surrounding them are expected to be followed to the letter. I found the most interesting rules to be those surrounding the practice of electioneering, a term I had not even known existed until going through my training. Electioneering, or campaigning, is strictly prohibited within 100 feet of a polling center. Before the polls open we must place “No electioneering” signs around the polling center exactly 100 feet away from the door and to do so we are actually supplied with 100 feet of string. One mythical rule I want to bring to my readers attention is this whole debate over voter ID. In the state of California you are only required to show ID if you are a new voter. And in my precinct that was only 3 out of 1800. Hundreds of voters came into my precinct with ID in hand and not only were they surprised that they did not have to show it, but that they were asked to please put it away as quickly as possible once it had been spotted. If a voter sees another voter in line showing an ID to an election official, they may think it is required and leave the center because they do not have any. No registered voter shall have his or her right to vote be denied for any reason.
Due to a labor shortage I actually took on three separate jobs at once. I was the ballot box clerk, provisional voter clerk, and voter assistance clerk. This meant that I was interacting with every single voter who came into the polling center. Many public workers will in private insult and berate the public they interact with for being ungrateful and so on, however, out of the almost 800 voters who came into my polling center I had only one unruly voter. It was a great pleasure interacting with voters and helping them make the process as enjoyable as possible. I was stationed at a middle school so many parents with little children came and asked me to give a short lesson on the process to their kids. It was when voters remembered I was a normal citizen like them and not like the machine they placed their ballots into that I had the most fun.
The absolute highlights of my day were when I had new or recent voters come to my polling center. New voters were either those who had just turned 18 or had recently immigrated to the US. Their excitement to be voting was very contagious and it made the whole polling center applaud whenever a new voter cast his or her first ballot. Parents with video cameras, embarrassing their children and wives, taking pictures as their husbands place ballots into the ballot box; it made me appreciate the privilege we have to actually choose who we want to represent us. To see a man in his 60s or a woman in her 30s vote for the first time brought Election Day into a larger perspective for me. We groan about long lines and not enough polling centers, but at least we have polling centers to begin with. Lines mean that people do not live in fear of violence for voting as it is in many other countries. I highly encourage all my readers, student or adult, to become a poll worker at some point their life. Freedom is not free, and working for a day to sustain that freedom is not easy.