Being a Poll Worker

This year I decided to be a poll worker. At first, I was driven by the fact that the Board of Elections was running low on poll workers due to COVID19. I also wanted to contest the stereotype that millennials don’t care about voting (only 46% of millennials voted in the 2016 election). Ultimately, I worked the polls because I have moved to the neighborhood where I will probably be for the next 5-7 years and I promised to myself that I wanted to be a true member of my community, to show up in ways I have never before. This was one of them. 

In hindsight, working the polls gave me much more than that. Election Day started at 4:30am on empty streets, with the moon still out. For the last two days there has been a wind advisory in NYC. I was scared of walking alone to the polling site but was comforted when two other women my age were walking in front of me. We get to the school and start walking down it’s corridors. Although my grade school looked nothing like this, it is bringing back memories, either from movies that I have adopted as my own or college gymnasiums I have been in. We are told to sign an attendance sheet but the three of us have left our pens at home “you were supposed to bring your own pens” we are told. We looked at each other, we had no clue.

As we are all trying to understand what we need to do and where we need to be, the only thing I can think of is the changing of the guard. This is the first time so many new poll workers have signed up to work and for the “regulars”, the ones that have worked the last 4 to 5 elections, it is simply too early to be welcoming or helpful to the newbies. Eventually we all find our roles and get a hold of the procedures, and for the ones that don’t, they are placed on relief duty. 

At around 7am, I tell one of the regulars that my role is to be a Spanish interpreter, she giggles a bit “we don’t need an interpreter” she says and she is right. Nonetheless, I make myself useful walking around getting all the poll workers to sign attendance sheets. I also make friends with the line inspectors and they share their duties with me, helping voters find their correct district table. At around 12:30pm as I am about to go out for my lunch break and as luck would have it, a voter arrives that needs my help translating the ballot!  

When I get back, our table receives a technological upgrade. Instead of looking for the district tables in a book like we did all morning, we now can do so on a touchscreen, making the voter’s check-in faster. For my second break, I come home around 4:30pm to drink hot tea and eat something, as we don’t know what the next 4 hours will look like. I stare at the clouds admiring the bright sunset and the ominous winds rippling the clouds. The winds of change... 

The last hours went by so quickly. We made bets on whether there was going to be a rush to the polls at the last hour as it usually does. There wasn’t. Although in my 15 hour stint as a poll worker I didn’t get to translate much, when the polling site closed we all clapped in excitement and exhaustion. As we were exiting our polling site, someone compared our day to The Breakfast Club. Afterall, we had spent a full day inside a school with strangers that now became friends.

It has been a while since I have felt this sense of camaraderie, a feeling that can only be experienced being in close contact with people. It made me realize that leaving politics aside, even in a political event, is possible and that across party lines we all want to live fulfilled and joyful lives. It was a welcome distraction from the results and filled me with hope for the future.

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