Welcome to Monitor Notes, a weekly roundup of news items, event announcements, and updates on past Bay Area Monitor articles. In this week’s edition, we are pleased to bring you a special article by our open space reporter Aleta George, who wrote about her experience working at the polls on Election Day last week.
A Day at the Polls
That morning my alarm had gone off at 5:00 a.m. As I attached the handsome commemorative pin given by the Solano County Registrar of Voters to my jacket, I was glad to have something constructive to do this Election Day. As a first-time poll-worker at Suisun City Hall I didn’t know what the day would bring, but having completed the five hours of required online classes, I was confident. I was also nervous. The online training had included de-escalation tips for those refusing to wear a mask or maintain social distance.
The one-hour set-up seemed frenzied, but at 7:00 a.m. we took an oath to the Constitution and were ready for the first voter, a man who had gotten in line at 6:30, and who, by law, was shown the empty ballot bags.
Four of us, ranging in age from 30 to 60, had been assigned as greeters. My co-workers for the day included a post office manager, a project manager of a COVID testing site in San Francisco, and a woman whose line of work wasn’t revealed. We greeted voters; handed out Voter Processing Forms (a new system to help with communications stymied by masks and plexiglass); handed out masks if needed and “I Voted” stickers; and directed those with vote-by-mail ballots to the secure yellow bag. We guesstimated that 300 people voted in the booths, and three times as many dropped off their sealed, vote-by-mail ballots. The voting population was diverse in all ways, including age.
Several of us confessed to having been worried about possible trouble, but the worst we had was a departing voter who raised his fist and shouted his preferred presidential candidate’s name, a breach in the law against electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.
The weather was fine and the day civic-minded. People were friendly and thanked us for working. Since the polling site was in my neighborhood, I chatted with neighbors about neighborly things. My team avoided any conversations that revealed political opinions; we enjoyed each other’s company and got the job done. “It’s so chill,” said one of the greeters thankfully.
As a first-time poll worker, my favorite voters were the first-timers. A twenty-something man stationed at nearby Travis Air Force Base walked up and announced he was voting for the first time. A woman in her fifties made a beeline for us, the greeters, planted her feet and said, “This is my first time. I don’t know what to do.” She seemed nervous or excited, perhaps both, as we explained the process.
By far, though, my very favorite first-timers were kids who came with their parents. They weren’t voting of course, but this was their first election and the parents engaged them in the process. We gave all the kids “I voted” stickers. (What child doesn’t relate to stickers!) One mom attached the sticker to her son’s pant leg (he was in a stroller) and took photos of him. Another couple took turns holding their one-year-old as they filled out their forms. “This is his first election,” said the mom proudly. A young teen had studied the candidates and initiatives in his online class, and knew how he’d vote if he had been eligible to fill in those rectangular bubbles of consequence.
One memorable moment came when a father approached with his son, who looked about five, carrying the vote-by-mail envelope. At the yellow bag, the father instructed the boy to insert the ballot in the slot. After receiving their stickers, they left hand in hand. As I watched them, the father was talking. Although I couldn’t hear what he was saying, I inferred that he was explaining the importance of voting to his son.
At 8:00 p.m. we locked the doors with a waning moon rising in the sky. After 14 hours of work, 12 poll workers and the inspector packed up the booths, peeled off the blue tape that marked six feet of distance, and put everything back into the carrying bins. The ballot bags were securely locked and ready for pick up. Each of us signed the tapes that recorded the business of the day and returned to our individual lives to follow the results of democracy in action.
The day after the election I shared the stories of the kids’ first Election Day with friends via email. My friend Lynn Eve Komaromi replied, “I distinctly remember heading into the curtained voting booth as my mom cast her vote. That act turned me into a lifelong voter, and I’ve never missed an election. I carried the tradition forward when I brought my then-two-year-old son into the voting booth in 1992. He’s never missed a vote either.”
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