I met all the requirements. I had to be: at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and have a valid CA driver’s license. I had to be: flexible, positive, and on time. I also had to be able to: follow directions, handle and resolve situations as they arose, and have a keen eye for detail. No sweat! It all sounded easy enough. So when the notice arrived shouting “We Need You!” I answered with a resounding, “Here I Am!” and proceeded to apply.
Within a week I got a letter from Mark A. Lunn, Clerk Recorder and Registrar of Voters of Ventura County stating that I needed to attend training. Several sites, days and times were listed, and I selected an afternoon session held at our local library.
Excited and nervous, my usual state of being, I was handed a 62-page booklet simply entitled: Presidential General Election when I arrived. Hours later with my head swimming with plans, policies, and procedures, and with my booklet now perhaps “overly” highlighted, I was ready to take on a poll worker’s job!
Just the thought of participating in the most important event we hold in a democracy was heady. Although I had taken part before, simply by voting, this would be a behind the scenes experience. In this role I would help set up equipment and materials needed to ensure a comfortable and safe environment. I would check in voters, distribute correct ballots, and explain how to mark a ballot or use a machine to cast a vote. I would carry out polling policies such as: making sure the American flag is displayed, that no campaigning is taking place within 100 feet of the door and allowing bystanders to watch vote tallying. I would also assist voters who had a name or address change, those who had physical needs, and identify anyone who needed a provisional ballot. I knew the day would be long, beginning at 6 a.m. and ending around 9:00 p.m….and I was raring to go!
From my journal: November 8, 2016 Newbury Park, California
“Up at 4:15 a.m. couldn’t sleep! Today will be a HISTORIC day in the U.S. …Either we’ll elect our first woman or our first non-political businessman as president…grateful to be part of this election! “
The precinct and polling place I was assigned was just a short drive from our house. At Sycamore Elementary & Middle School I met our Inspector, Bernadette and our team. We had just one hour to set up in the huge gymnasium making sure our stations were in the proper order. First, the Master Roster Officer, next Tally Officer and then Ballot Officer. Registration forms, ballots, vote by mail return envelopes, machine card activators, a bilingual glossary, and more had to be laid out for easy access on our precinct table. The Optech machine had to be turned on, and all procedures needed to be posted in plain sight. So busy, those 60 minutes, felt like 60 seconds.
At 7 a.m. sharp, Bernadette opened the door and proclaimed, “The polls are open!” We welcomed the first voters in while she removed the tamper evident seal from the ballot box door and showed everyone present that the bins in the box were empty. It was now time…to let the voting begin!
Although I had reviewed my booklet a dozen times and tagged sections with colorful sticky notes, and I knew I could ask more experienced workers for help, I still felt anxious. Would I remember all the procedures? Would the equipment work properly? Would I be able to answer all questions that came my way? I also felt the weight of responsibility press on me. I, as well as all members of our team, had taken an Oath of Allegiance to solemnly support the Constitution of the United States and carry out the duties of the precinct board to the best of our ability. Our job was to make sure everyone who wanted to vote, could, and that their vote was handled properly. Phew!
The freshness of the day began to wane in the late morning. Even though we were urged to take breaks, most of us took shorter ones because of the steady in coming stream. At one point., Mrs. J. led her fifth-grade class in to let them see the voting process in action. How cool was that?! Introducing kids to the election process is essential in helping them become responsible citizens. Yay, Mrs. J.!
Over the course of the day, there was little downtime. But when we did have a breather, I tried to take it all in. What I remember most was watching a first-time voter wave to her parents as she went into the voting booth and then come out flashing a thumbs up sign and a big smile. I recall listening to an elderly gentleman tell me with tears in his eyes that this was his 14th time voting and how much it still meant to him. And I remember hearing countless voters thank us, over and over, for our time and for our service. Truly amazing. Truly heart-warming.
That day brought challenges, of course, but meeting each one, left me feeling more confident. And the expectations I had, they changed throughout those 15 hours, too. I expected to get along with my fellow workers but was surprised by our easy camaraderie and the genuine goodwill we shared, especially evident as we embraced each other when the polls closed. I expected to be tired but was surprised that no matter how fatigued I was, I still felt exhilarated each time I handed out a “I Voted” sticker. I expected to feel good about what we would collectively accomplish but was surprised at the overwhelming pride I felt realizing what an extraordinary opportunity we are given to vote safely in our country, and to elect the people we want to represent us.
Watching the recent United States House Select Committee Hearings on the January 6th Attack on the Capitol has brought me to tears. To think that our 2020 election results and processes were in jeopardy of being deemed invalid, is disheartening. But perhaps what has come to light, can serve as a wake-up call. Whatever the outcome of the hearings, maybe this is a time to remind ourselves that by virtue of being U.S. citizens, our rights come with responsibilities. Each one of us has the duty to support the Constitution, to stay informed on issues, to participate in the democratic process, to abide by our local, state, and federal laws, and to respect the beliefs and opinions of others. In doing so, we can rest assured that each one of our votes will continue to count, that each one of our voices will continue to matter, and that each one of us will continue to be heard.