On Tuesday, I performed a civic duty. At least, that’s what people call it. I spent the day – ALL day, from 6:00 am to 9:30 pm – shuttered inside a room filled with strangers and machines. The machines themselves were strange (not always easy to figure out) but, thankfully, the strangers were not machine-like. In fact, they made a point of being human, expressing their sincere gratitude to me and my co-workers. “Thank you.” And, sometimes, “Gracias” or “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
On that gorgeous spring Tuesday, with the sun shining bright, trees and flowers busting out, and a perfect 70 degrees, my companions and I were held captive inside the polls. We had chosen to work as Election Judges, committing ourselves to, as the state law says, “ensure the integrity for administering voting procedures and ensuring a fair and accessible election.” We welcomed voters to the primaries, signed them in using the somewhat eccentric electronic poll books, helped them cast their ballots on the voting machines, and – the best part! – gave them their prize, a red, white and blue sticker that said, “I Voted. Yo Voté.” Yes, in my Maryland county, ours included the Spanish. And, that’s one of the reasons I signed up to be a Judge. I am able to offer a service that not everyone can: Spanish-English interpretation to those who need it.
As I’ve implied, what impressed me the most about my day at the polls was how we Election Judges garnered so much respect for our work. The comments we received demonstrated how seriously American voters take the electoral process – in spite of its flaws. Of course, I hasten to say that the voters who showed up were definitely the most conscientious. They represented fewer than 10% of registered voters in our precinct, a predominantly Democratic and with few contested Democrats. (To be fair, dedicated voters probably consisted of more than 10% since some cast their ballots during early voting the week before.)
Nevertheless, our grateful patrons saw us as making a big sacrifice for them. Maybe we did, though they probably don’t know that we get paid for our work. I made a big $10/hour plus doughnuts (which I didn’t eat). And, I gave up outside enjoyment of one of those rare, perfect spring days. Was it really a sacrifice, a relinquishing of something valuable for little return? I might have thought so, if not for Ken. He helped me realize that in spite of the long day of work, where I was only able to use my Spanish abilities once, my service was not a sacrifice. It was a gift.
Ken was one of two Chief Judges (theoretically, one from each of the two dominant political parties) directing our team of ten poll workers. The day after the election he wrote me an email, saying “The way of the world is that your beautiful work with the older Latino gentleman was the real human story of the day for me. Or David’s with the woman who was blind. Unsung and unnoticed, sadly.”
Not so unnoticed now.