Back in June I served as a Voter Operations Judge during the primaries. It was certainly an eye-opening experience into some of the challenges and inherent problems with how our voting process is organized in this country. AND it was a heartwarming glimpse into some of the things that are fascinating and beautiful about exercising our right to vote in the U.S.
Surprisingly, there are many, many people from other countries and developing nations that are avidly involved in overseeing and executing voter operations. This may be reflective of only my experience in one precinct in one district across the country, but it was certainly noticeable. In passing conversation it becomes clear that they have a reverence and sense of gratitude for the right to vote that’s extended to all Americans—many of whom don’t have a clear perspective or appreciation for the sacrifices thousands have made before us to ensure and protect that right.
For example, one voter asked me if she could change her party affiliation so that she didn’t have to come in to vote. (huh?) I explained to her that exercising her right to vote, or not vote, was a decision she could make regardless of her party affiliation—she’s not forced or obligated to vote. (blank stare) Again she asks me if changing her party affiliation to independent would mean that she didn’t have to vote. (sigh) I let her know that she could change her party affiliation if she wanted to and she didn’t have to vote if she didn’t want to. I’m not sure she ever understood what I was saying but she did vote and she did not change her party affiliation that day. Her perfectly made-up and manicured face and hands, with her bubble-gum lipstick, glasses, and blonde hair pulled through a Ralph Lauren baseball cap is so vivid in my memory. Such a tragedy not to understand the difference between a right, a privilege, and an obligation.
During my time as an election judge, 495 voters came through our precinct. There were about 4-5 of us checking voters in at any given time so for the sake of easy math, let’s say I came in contact with about 110 voters. One of the most interesting things about these 500 or so people is that some managed to make a very simple process difficult. Maryland is a no ID state for voting, which basically means that if you are a registered voter, you do not have to show ID to vote. You simply answer a series of practical, every day questions to confirm your identity (name, DOB, address, etc.), and you are given a ballot to cast your vote, that’s it. There was no shortage of voters that wanted to give me their beliefs and opinions about whether or not we all should be required to show ID to vote. Thankfully, I’m highly skilled at the resting bitch face so I listened, smirked smiled smirked, and kindly directed them to the line to enter the ballot booth—save your politicking for someone who cares (and who’s not WORKING as an election judge). Some of these people even shared their opinions, with no filter, about the current Administration and their elected officials. *yawn, I’ve been here since 6am and #IDC
One thing that’s really cute is that lots of couples come out to vote together, as well as young people and their parents. Mostly the husbands ask their wives whom they should vote for and the families generally rely on the women to do the research to tell them where to cast their vote. I’m sure this is not the case in all families but this is what I noticed in my precinct in my district.
The best couple that came in was a mixed race couple that had been together for over 40 years. They told us about how they marched during the Civil Rights movement and lived through the Jim Crow era in the southern Virginia and North Carolina. It was amazing to see them still together, blissful, and vibrant. They were telling us how they considered writing a book about the living history of their experiences when another election judge asked if they had seen the movie Belle (which is about an illegitimate, mixed race woman raised as an aristocrat during the era of slavery). *side-eye Well, that conversation ended there and they went on to vote.
By far the funniest thing I heard all day was a story about one of the election judges’ erratic neighbor, and neighborhood nuisance, that came in to vote (and he was acting like a total spaz that whole time he was there, literally jumping around and carrying on). I won’t get into the details of that here, but it had to do with a voodoo doll supposedly being thrown at the man’s door after he complained about other people’s water getting into his yard when they watered their flowers, and him accusing all the neighboring people of color of doing it. The main take away was that when the wife started asking people in the neighborhood who did it, she was told with a beaming smile that, “intelligent women do not let their asshole husbands tell them just anything.” That was probably the nicest insult that woman had ever received. I was #crine.
Out of all this, the memory that will live with me forever is that of an African American woman born in 1919 that came in to vote. At one point in the morning, an elderly, African American couple came in that was born in 1922 (husband) and 1926 (wife). From then on I was curious to see what year would the oldest person coming to vote be born in. The only other contender was an older white woman born in September 1924. It was amazing to see these folks come in, with a cane or a walker, but clearly of their own accord to cast their ballot.
A fellow election judge was a history buff so we calculated that if these folks were of age to vote beginning in 1943 (prior to the legal age to vote being changed to 18 years of age), then they likely voted in 18 Presidential elections beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt through Barack Hussein Obama (for a reading bonus, take a look at President Obama as he looks out over The Capitol once last time after the 2013 Inauguration #yourewelcome).
These are people that lived through the Great Depression, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, man landing on the moon, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and many, many other historic and monumental events. The fact that these people still take the time, effort and energy to participate in our democracy and come out to vote, even in the primaries (!!!), leaves no room for any of our excuses not to make it to the polls.
When too many Americans don’t vote or participate, some see apathy and despair. I see disappointment and even outrage. And I believe that out of this frustration can come hope and action. ” – Paul Wellstone