When I went to the MVA this past October I really was only expecting to leave with my driver’s license. After passing my test (and reinforcing my belief that traditional academic tests are more of my forte!) I eagerly completed the paperwork that would award me with what I considered to be my ticket to freedom. However, the real step for me across the imaginary line separating childhood from adulthood came that day when the MVA employee asked me if I wanted to register to vote.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a person who is very interested in the world around them. I enjoy reading the news – local and international – and over time I have come to develop my own opinions on key issues that our world is facing. For me, being involved and aware is one of the most important things that my peers and I can do as we grow up. That being said, my answer to the woman who was assisting me at the MVA was one that came very naturally. I knew just what party I wanted to affiliate myself with and in just a few seconds, I was a 16-year-old who felt very, very powerful! (And probably more so than I should have!)
About eight months after my father very ironically drove my newly-licensed self home from the MVA, my mother showed me an email that she had received via our neighborhood network. While I was expecting to see the grown-up email-equivalent to a Twitter fight on the subject of “should we spend our HOA dues on mailboxes or a dog park,” I was instead shown a request for volunteers to be election judges in the June 2014 Primary Elections. At first, I was a bit confused as to why I was being asked to look at the email. After all, a few weeks after I registered to vote I received a letter in the mail that reminded me that I wouldn’t be able to vote until I turned 18! I was surprised to find out that to be an election judge you only had to be 17 years old and a registered voter. I had turned 17 several months before so my mother and I both decided to sign up, thinking that it would be a unique and most-likely enlightening way to perform a civic duty.
We attended a short training session before Election Day and I was excited to see that people of all ages and backgrounds were taking the opportunity to volunteer in the name of the principles that our country was founded on. My mother and I were unit judges which meant that we would be assisting voters in using the voting machines. I had never really worked alongside my mother before in an environment that wasn’t our own home so that was a learning experience in itself. It was a lot of new information to digest and I would have to admit that my note-taking mother was probably being a better student than me that day!
At 7 a.m., on June 24th, 2014, my mother and I arrived at our assigned precinct in order to set up for the impending slew of voters. I was by far the youngest election judge there but was quickly able to become friendly with the others. I found it to be very uplifting that although all of the election judges had different day jobs, interests, and goals, they all had the same wish to encourage fellow citizens to take advantage of their right to vote and be heard.
My job required me to lead voters to a voting machine and ensure that they knew how to operate it. We had several hundred voters come to our precinct in the twelve-hour voting period but with the number of election judges that we had, it was generally a relaxing and slow-paced affair. Albeit, I was on my feet quite a bit and was very tired by the end of the day. I was kept entertained by all of the voters, many of whom were extremely kind and appreciative of my fellow election judges and myself.
One of my smaller (but still important) duties included handing out “I Voted!” stickers to voters. I will never forget when I was a little girl and would go with my mother when she voted; I was always just waiting for the moment that I could put her sticker on my shirt! Of course, not being able to vote in this election either I got crafty and modified my sticker so that it said “I Haven’t Voted!” with a sad face on it. I was very adamant in making sure that no voter left the precinct without at least being offered a sticker. One woman jokingly told me “I only came for the sticker!” and an older man said “Okay, I’ll take one to prove to my wife that I voted.” Among the voters who refused a sticker, the number one reason was because “I’m going home and no one will see it.” (If only I could have responded with “”If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?””)
Apart from my sticker-distributing responsibilities, I was also given a brief education in the way that ballots work in different elections. In the Primaries if you are not affiliated with a party then there are only a few positions that you can vote for. Although the majority of voters are affiliated with a party, those who were unaffiliated were usually very disappointed or confused by how short their ballot was. I lost count of how many people called me over to tell me that their machine was broken; when I had to tell them “I’m sorry, it’s not, you’re unaffiliated” I began to feel like I was the bearer of bad news. To be noted, though, voters were able to change their affiliation that day so that they would have a longer and more comprehensive ballot in the November elections.
Being at a precinct outside of the one where my own family votes, I did not see many familiar faces (other than my school principal!). I was disappointed to see that there were not many young people voting, although I realize that this might have had to do with the demographics of the area that our voters were coming from. Even so, being an election judge was an experience that I’m glad that I participated in. I was able to see how much work it does take to provide American citizens with the opportunity to cast their vote and be a part of one of the world’s largest democracies. When I read the news on June 25th and saw the results of the election it was so crazy for me to know that even as a non-voter, I was able to help uphold a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.