Tom Nichols, staff writer for The Atlantic, penned the piece we at the League should have thought of: “The Joy of Voting.” This leads to the question, have you noticed self-satisfaction when you vote? Or joy?
It’s worth pausing, taking a deep breath and measuring our instinctive reactions to words like voting, election, absentee ballot, mail-in and fair. If you are sucking in your breath is it because of recent news stories?
Elections officials have quit amidst threats to their safety. Ohio, Nevada and Arizona elections offices are flooded with records requests, bogging down their preparations for secure mid-term elections. Shortages in poll workers have localities making creative solutions to recruit workers.
It makes one wonder if it could happen here. Could our very competent clerk Karyn Douglass be trolled, threatened or harassed?
Remember when we used to wonder where to find a voting guide, who to vote for, how to find out what ideas a candidate represented and when or where to vote? Now, the narrative is that we cannot trust our elections or other people in other counties cannot trust theirs, casting doubt on ours. How can there be joy, confidence and self-satisfaction for voting in this climate? Would you indulge some suggestions?
Working the polls might grant you an insider’s perspective on the process.
Here’s why you should work the polls: There’s a small stipend, it’s assuring to go through the training and learn what it means to provide a fair election, and you’ll see the balance in action.
In Indiana, polling centers must have both Democrat and Republican workers. Yes, this puts more work on the Democrats because they tend to be a minority, but it safeguards the process. Here’s why.
Imagine Fred, who is 72 and has cataracts, comes to vote. He arrives with a grandson. They approach the check-in station and Fred’s hands shake with age as he reaches for his ID in his old wallet. He takes longer than most to pry his license from the pocket. A high school senior who is Republican and you sit side by side at two check-in desks. Throughout the day, you’ll work next to him and others as you rotate based on the fact that every station — check-in, voting machines, validation station — requires one Democrat and one Republican.
When Fred hands over his ID, you verify his date of birth and last name. This matters because his grandson has the same name so date-of-birth distinguishes the two of them. From here, you tell Fred Sr. that a volunteer will walk him to a voting station. You are due to rotate, so you offer. At the machine, you give the spiel about the machine’s start page, the arrows to navigate through the ballot, and the end page which will print his ballot. You explain that in Montgomery County the ballot is not recorded on the machine but printed. He must get the printout, walk it over to the vote reading machine, but before he can feed the ballot into the machine, it must be initialed on the back by members of both parties at the station.
When Fred looks at the machine, he turns around motioning you back to help him. You cannot go alone. You find your fellow walker, a member of the other party, and both of you go over to find out what Fred needs. He needs someone who can see well enough to read the screen and help him hit the right line. You ask if he would like his grandson to do this, or would he prefer one of you to do it with the other observing? He picks you, so you call the high school senior over. Both of you take turns reading. Fred votes, prints his ballot, and walks it over to be initialed.
The day runs smoothly. Observers from the local news outlets come and watch. The League of Women Voters sends observers. Someone asks to take pictures and you must remind them that they cannot take a picture at their machine, but can take a picture at the League’s “I voted” selfie station before or after. You get to assure parents who brought their youngsters that the kiddos can go with them to the voting station. Sometimes you remind a person to turn their shirts inside out because they promote a specific candidate or party. This is not legal within a certain footage around the polling place, just as offering drinks, which used to be a tactic, is also not legal.
Crowds come and go. There are downtimes, during which volunteers vote. None of you can vote before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. At the end of the day, the check-in machines are secured in their locked cases. The paper ballots are counted to match with the numbers of those who checked in. It was reassuring when the county clerk dropped by and double-checked the process. She responded to every question that the polling place leader sent, and you could report that all went smoothly.
In that room, you will make conversations with people in another party, and you will discover you are neighbors with similar concerns about the community, however perplexing you find the differences you have about how to lead a nation of 330 million people.
You may or may not talk to your clerk, or be a witness to the research done on provisional ballots cast for folks who show up insisting upon voting when they hadn’t registered. You are assured that the system works. It checks and double checks, like a surgeon’s staff before cutting you open. ID’s, names and birth dates match who voted, and that numbers in multiple systems line up.
You don’t have to do this every year. Just once or occasionally will assure you that your local election officials cross their t’s and dot their i’s.
If you are still doubting, still melancholic about the process, get active in the League of Women Voters, where you can observe your local government, but also get access to webinars and information about all the layers of security and preparation that your leaders enact to ensure confidence in democracy. Finally, reach out to your party’s leadership and ask about working the polls Nov. 8.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.
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