Americans volunteer for many causes. We’ve seen that now with the volunteerism to help fellow citizens recover from Hurricane Sandy. We volunteer at food banks. We volunteer at homeless shelters. We volunteer at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, churches, libraries, and sports teams. Name it and Americans are giving it their time, attention, and resources.
And Americans – of all races, gender and income levels – also volunteer on Election Day. Volunteering on Election Day signifies a deep belief in this all-important process, which keeps our nation unique and truly a model for the world. It also insures that the process will viable and strong for years to come.
Despite the differences of opinions we collectively hold, we come together as a nation to vote. Yes, we choose the president, who holds the highest office in the land. But we also choose our local leaders – people who will lead our school districts, city councils, judicial systems, and water districts.
As a public involvement firm, Collaborative Services specializes in engaging people in projects and developments. That’s what Election Day is all about, of course. And so we thought it would be fitting to chip in and help by having two of our own team members volunteer at San Diego-area polling places for the June primaries.
According to an ABA new release, There is “a shortage of citizens willing to act as election officials on Election Day,” said Jack Young, chair of the Lawyer as Citizen Initiative and co-chair of the Advisory Commission to the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law. “Lawyers can play a significant role in the voting process by serving as these officials. … The ABA’s ‘Lawyer as Citizen’ program seeks to fill the gap in the number of election officials and thereby work to improve our electoral system.”
We are happy to highlight one of our team members, Rebekah Hook, who volunteered at the polls in June. Not only a skillful outreach team member, she is a lover of all things political. We welcome her thoughts and insight on her experience.
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To which polling station were you assigned?
I was assigned to a polling station at the Plymouth Congregational Church located at Pershing Avenue and University Avenue in North Park.
What did your duties include?
Originally, I was assigned by the County’s Registrar of Voters to be an “Alternate” on the Primary Election Day. Two days before the election, I was called and asked if I would be a Touchscreen Inspector. I completed three trainings, one online and two in person. I was required to set up the touchscreen, help set up the poll, take care of voters, and close the poll. At the end of the night, I went to the collection center with the Precinct Inspector and dropped off supplies and the completed ballots.
How would you describe the experience?
Working at a polling place was great! Working from 5:45 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. makes it a long day and a lot of work, but I really am happy to have had the experience. I live near this polling station so it was great to see members of my community civically engaged and voting.
At first, I was nervous because if the electronic voting machine broke down it was my responsibility to make it work. There was a lot of pressure. But once I got the touchscreen machine set up, I had no problems. Most of my day was spent checking voters in, making sure they got the correct primary ballot and answering any questions they had.
Have you ever volunteered at a polling place before?
No. This was my first time. The other volunteers I was working with have volunteered at the polls for several elections and were very proud of their service.
What kind of engagement took place between the poll workers and the voters?
The Primary Election made this a unique experience in that voters had to tell you which primary ballot they wanted to vote. California typically conducts closed presidential primary elections, meaning only voters who have identified a party preference can vote for that party’s presidential nominee. Political parties can also choose to hold modified-closed presidential primary elections if they submit the proper notification to the State Secretary. In modified-closed presidential primary elections the party also allows voters who have not identified a party preference to vote for their nominee. To me, this became a very personal conversation with each voter because they had to disclose their party preference. In some cases, their party preference was something they did not want the person they came to vote with to know about.
How was voter turnout at your polling station?
I am not quite sure how the over all turnout was according to the data. But we had a steady stream of voters throughout the day. In fact, we ran out of one of the ballot options. I think it was the non-party preference. Once we ran out of hard copies, voters who wished to vote that ballot had to do so on the electronic touchscreen, which I set up for them.
Did you sense any kind of a mood among voters?
Voters were very excited to vote. We did not have any long lines like the ones we witnessed this election in Florida, Ohio, and other states. The voters here were very appreciative that there was not a long wait time.
What surprises, if any, did you encounter?
I was pleasantly surprised that no ID was required in order to vote in California. I am from Washington State and before this election, had only ever voted there. In Washington, voting is done mostly by mail-in-ballots. It was great to see that in California voters could arrive at a polling location, and their name and signature was all that was required to vote. This was a simple, yet effective process to verify voters.
You’re politically engaged and received your Masters in Political Science. Why are you so involved?
We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world. Civic engagement is at the very core of a democracy and I think it is not only our right but our duty to take part in that process. For a long time in this country, not all men and women had the right to vote. How can I not partake in something that so many before me fought for? If people do not demand to be given access and opportunity for their vote be counted, then are elected officials true representatives of their constituents?
I am involved and so passionate about encouraging others to be politically active, because I believe in the power of the people. And I believe that government should work for its people and be held accountable. Political leaders are only put into positions of power because, we the voters, put them there. Utilizing the power of voting has become even more important since the Citizen’s United case was decided. It is important for voters to know that if they support an issue, a candidate, or want something changed, their vote matters, and change begins through voting.
You’re a member of the “Millennial Generation”. Earlier this week we interviewed Rock the Vote Vice President Chrissy Faessen about this generation’s participation. What are your thoughts about the millennial’s political engagement?
I was in High School when 9/11 happened. In the years following, I saw classmates of mine enlist in the armed forces and sent off to fight two different wars. I graduated from college at a time when unemployment was at an all time high since the Great Depression. My student loan rates have gone up and down depending on the political climate. Yet, I am part of a generation who invented Facebook and Twitter.
I think my generation’s political engagement is a product of the world that surrounds us. We are constantly affected by local, state, and federal policies- funding education, access to good paying jobs, safe neighborhoods, clean drinking water, immigration, national security, healthcare- to name a few. These issues, partnered with access to endless streams of information, has ignited many to become politically engaged and make sure they have a part in determining the direction of their communities, cities, state and nation. In fact, the youth vote in this election made up a higher percentage of the electorate than in 2008. The enthusiasm gap that many thought would be present in 2012, turned out not to be the case.
To me, the passion to be politically engaged stems from my belief in the political process, in my elected officials, and that my vote does make a difference.
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Thank you Rebekah for sharing you experience as a poll worker. And kudos as well for being so politically engaged.
Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.