Protecting Our Democracy: No Votes Required

photo courtesy of katharine bales

My Experience Assisting at the Primary Polls

     Recently on Mar. 3, students who were 16 years and older had the opportunity to work the U.S. primary election polls as clerks. I was one of those clerks this year, and on top of missing a day of school, I gained a one-of-a-kind experience. Working the primary elections gave me an insight into the voting process and how it is much less complicated than I had anticipated.

     I became inspired to work at the primaries because my grandmother has always worked local, state, and federal elections as a clerk. My family and I believe that the American people should express their right to vote in all elections—but especially presidential elections—so that our democracy can more accurately reflect people’s opinions. Young voters need to know that their political voices matter at a national level; a single vote, though it may seem insignificant in the long run, can help determine this country’s future. To more fully understand how the political process works, teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 have the option to assist voters at polling places.

     Before working the polls at the Math/Science/Technology Magnet Elementary School in Richardson, other high school student volunteers and I submitted a preliminary application and were required to attend an election training at Dallas County Elections. The three-hour training consisted of learning how to print ballots, operate pollbook computers and assist voters with the voting machines.

     Afterwards, we received instruction manuals reiterating the information we had learned—all to ensure a successful Election Day. The other clerks at my polling location were either retired senior citizens or high school students. We were asked to work a maximum of 14 hours, for which we would get paid around $12 per hour.

     As for the work my fellow clerks and I accomplished, four of us checked voter registration and printed ballots. Meanwhile, two others monitored the voting booths to make sure that voters knew how to insert their ballots properly and did not have access to their cell phones.

     I learned that using your phone while voting is a big no-no. Voters had to write their candidates on a sheet of paper if they couldn’t remember whom to vote for. Wearing candidate-endorsing shirts, hats or other merchandise is also strictly prohibited in any election. Nothing that could influence another citizen’s vote is permitted. Someone came into our location wearing an Andrew Yang shirt, and he was asked to turn it inside-out outside.

     There were two separate ballot tables, one for Democrats and the other for Republicans. Since it was only the primaries, voters did not have the option to vote for an independent candidate. Likewise, voters could not vote in both parties; they had to choose to vote either Democratic or Republican because there were two different ballots.

    Before anyone could receive a ballot, he or she had to prove voter registration by checking in at one of the pollbook computers. I worked at a pollbook all day. There were no shifts. Our main job was to scan the voter’s ID (preferably a driver’s license) and issue a standard ballot every time. Unfortunately, there were still those inexplicable cases where a voter’s name didn’t appear on our pollbook screen. If that happened, then we had no choice but to issue a provisional ballot instead.

      Provisional ballots allow people to vote when their eligibility seems questionable according to the county system’s registration records. These issues must be resolved before the vote can count towards the election. An election judge from Dallas County sat in the back of the location to help issue provisional ballots and, whenever necessary, sort out technical difficulties. The judge at my location was eighty-three years old. He arrived at 6 a.m. and probably left after 9 p.m., so it was a long day.

     Although working the elections can be a long, tiring day of work, it provides teenagers like me with a unique lens into the voting world—even before they become eligible to vote.

     This experience, though exhausting to say the least, opened my eyes to the voting process. I plan to work the general election in November, too. It should have a greater turnout since it will more directly determine the country’s next president.

Send us your thoughts!