Last Tuesday, California voted in a gubernatorial recall election (Newson wasn’t recalled). I served as a poll worker at a local precinct in my neighbourhood in San Francisco, where my duties as a clerk included setting up the polling station, collecting mailed-in ballots, facilitating in-person voting, and counting the ballots at the end of the day. This was my first time ever doing this, and I quite enjoyed the day. Sharing some thoughts and anecdotes from throughout the day.
- Our poll booth was staffed by four poll workers having four distinct ethnicities, and four distinct accents — Asian guy with a west coast accent, white dude with a British one, Latina woman with a mexican one, and me. That’s America and San Francisco for you!
- An elderly latino gentleman walked into the polling station slightly breathless from the single flight of stairs. He sat down to catch his breath, and confessed, “I don’t read too well” as I handed him his voting materials. Yolanda helped him understand the questions and fill out the ballot. It took a good 15 minutes, but as he submitted his ballot and the machine chirped its “Ding” to indicate the vote was accepted, the biggest grin cracked on his face. ‘¡Viva la me!’, he yelled out. Turns out that he had only just gotten naturalized last month, after living in the States for some 20 years. He couldn’t be prouder of himself to manage to have successfully voted. ‘¡Viva la me!’
- A man came in all excited, and started having a conversation in rapid Spanish with Yolanda. He grew increasingly agitated, eventually causing this older lady who was resting there after having cast her ballot to snap, ‘¡Tonto!‘ at him after which he left dejectedly. Turns out, he thought the polling booth was where you applied to get your Green Card. Welp! Way above my pay-grade as a poll worker.
- Another older man walked in to vote, but started looking around and examining the school cafeteria where we were set up. When I went to inquire if he needed assistance he explained that he had attended this same school some 60+ years ago, and he was just reminiscing on the time he spent there. It wasn’t named after César Chávez back then, (I forget which US president name he said the school name was before), but the building was pretty much the same. Further, his mom went to the same school some 20 years before him when the building wasn’t yet constructed and they used to do classes in some shacks where the playground now stands.
- I’d read that schools in San Francisco were bad, and indeed César Chávez elementary is rated 3/10 on GreatSchools. Never having been at an American school before, I was expecting that to mean apathetic overworked teachers, and students who didn’t care about learning. Speaking with the principal, teachers, and observing the students all day, however, I found this couldn’t be further from reality — in a charming building with striking murals, I found teachers who genuinely cared, and wanted the best outcomes for their students; many students who didn’t yet speak English still learning; volunteers running an after school program — everyone seemed to be trying their best with what they had. Totally seems like a school I’d love for my future kids to go to.
I thought working the polls was a great way to experience American democracy first-hand up close, and get to meet my neighbours who I normally wouldn’t. Will definitely sign up again when the next election comes around!