We were two hours into my shift as a poll worker during last week’s midterm election when a young man dressed in black jeans and a t-shirt entered the check-in line. After giving his name and address, and confirming his birthdate, he was ushered to my section. As he approached our table, the woman seated next to me – an experienced poll worker in her seventies who seemed to know everyone in town – greeted him with a warm smile and an exuberant, Hello!
“How ya doin, Billy?” she inquired. “Is this your first time voting?”
“Sure is,” Billy replied. “What do I do?”
She directed him toward me while inquiring about his family and what he’d been up to since graduating high school. When they finished talking, I handed him a ballot and recited the instructions:
Welcome! This is your ballot. The candidates are on the front, the questions are on the back, and there’s a pen in the booth. Take your time and congratulations.
As Billy headed for the voting area, I turned to the woman next to me as her eyes welled up with tears.
“He’s a good boy,” she said, “and I don’t know why but it makes me cry when I see them grow up and come here to vote for the first time.”
I squeezed her arm and smiled, touched by the sweetness of her reaction. I could tell she cared deeply about our community and the democratic process of voting. It was the same commitment and enthusiasm I observed throughout the day from the Town Clerk who supervised the airtight process to the people who refilled voting supplies and candy dishes.
I worked the polls from 1:30 in the afternoon until after 9:30 that night and when I left with a stiff back and tired legs, there were still volunteers – many older than me – counting ballots and checking off lists. It was democracy in action and as I walked to my car, I stopped for a moment in the middle of the parking lot and looked up at the glowing full moon. I thought about all the people that came through that day to vote – a mom with a child on each hip, teenagers tagging along with their parents, women walking with canes, and an elderly man in a wheelchair, and I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me.
Much like the wake-up calls in life that push us towards positive change, I realized that the threat to our democracy and the drama in our political system over the last several years had done something good. It created a groundswell of energy that turned apathy into action.
I intend to work the polls again and I hope you’ll consider volunteering at your local polling station, too. It’s a powerful and inspiring way to get a fundamental education about how our democracy works. Not only that, it turns fear into power and I’ll vote for that any day 😀.
P.S. –My new audiobook, Self Care for the Wisdom Years, is now available from Sounds True. You can find it, here.