If you live in a state that has already participated in the Primary Election season, and your state holds primaries (as opposed to caucuses), what you may have witnessed is something like this: long lines of agitated voters, older poll workers who move slowly, and possibly difficulties casting your ballot.
I should know, I was there. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia hosted their regional primary yesterday—the so called “Potomac Primary” or the “Chesapeake Primary”, or even the “Crab Cake Primary.” I was there, working the polls.
Working the gears of Democracy was hard. But it was worth it. I would not have traded the experience for anything. Working for democracy was absolutely amazing. I met neighbors. I learned things about their families, friends and faith communities. I met young and old alike. I met people from black, white, Latino and Asian communities. Experienced voters and first-timers, born citizens, new residents and recent immigrants, they all came together to vote-as Americans. It was beautiful.
While I was working the polls, I had the whole day to think of ways to make the voting process smoother. These include, but are not limited to:
Making Election Day a national holiday
Implementing same day voter registration
Opening up the closed primary system
But what would have really made the day go smoother and easier would not require policy change at all. Instead, it would require a one day sacrifice of over 500,000 extra people.
I say 500,000 because an Associated Press article from 2004 reported that The United States lacked a total of 500,000 poll workers. A half a million poll workers who could help people cast their ballots in a safe and accurate matter.
In a world of hanging chads, and miscount ballots, and people turned away from the door, it’s easy to posit vast government conspiracies between Diebold, the Supreme Court and Karl Rove. But, think of a world in which there were enough passionate, engaged, and competent people to fully staff all the polls in America and just how differently our elections would look. Imagine every voter knowing to check their chads. Imagine enough people to accurately count ballots. And imagine enough workers to inform all voters their rights.
This is not to demean my fellow poll workers. But let’s face it, we were outnumbered. There were just 5 of us, working a total of 8 positions. There were many more people voting than we expected–more than 700 people in a six block radius came to vote. For thirteen hours, I worked on my feet, often forgoing meals to help people cast their ballot. We had retired women working the entire day as quickly and accurately as they could—even when people a third their age were yelling at them. These hard working poll workers made this whole thing work.
That is why I am urging you to sacrifice one day of your time to volunteer at the polls for your next elections. It gives you an opportunity to work for democracy, help your neighbors and be part of history. Please call your local board of elections to find out how you could work the polls for your next election. I’ll be there!