Reflections On Being A Poll Volunteer

by Elisabet Michaelsen

On June 8, 2021 we had a Democratic Primary here in Virginia and I signed up to volunteer at a precinct here in the City of Winchester. There were three shifts (early morning, midday and late afternoon/evening) so I decided to cover all three shifts at my designated spot, an Elementary School. The entrance to the polls was at the back of the building, but well marked with taped signs. The obligatory “curb side service” sign was up as well. I went inside to introduce myself to the poll workers, taking caution not displaying any partisan material. The main Election Officer was very friendly and service minded. I mentioned that I was used to a chalk mark at 40 feet from the entrance, which would indicate where I could greet voters. He jokingly came outside with a tape measure and we decided on the perfect spot. We then had a nice conversation, where he mentioned that he was from out of state. I was then getting busy talking to voters. I did not have sample ballots to give the voters, but a copy of one in a plastic cover, so I could show it to the voter, and ask if there were any questions about the candidate. I also had a stack of business cards with information about the WFCDC and its website.

Here are my reflections on the experience:

1. There was a steady stream of voters coming in between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Many headed straight for the poll station without asking for information about the sample ballot. I was able to still give out the business card for the Democratic Committee information. In one case, the voter was quite rushed and stated “I have not had time to research this, who should I vote for?”. We looked at the sample ballot together, and I tried to hastily go down the list, giving the voter a synopsis of each candidate’s platform and background. That voter went in, voted, and was back on the road within a few minutes.

2. I was able to have a longer conversation with a member of the Faculty at Shenandoah University, whom lived in this precinct and wanted to participate in the Primary. This voter was not aware that Delegate Guzman had withdrawn her candidacy for Lt. Governor, and this voter had planned on voting for her. We also talked a few minutes about the other candidates.

3. Several voters were Republicans (!) and expressed surprise to find out that there were no Republican candidates on the ballot. I explained that this was the Democratic Primary and that the Republicans had a Convention and had already decided their slate. Several such voters went inside the polling station and discussed the matter with the poll workers. In at least one case, a voter and his wife, who usually voted Republican stated “well we are here now, so let’s go in and vote”, and they did. I again reiterated that there would not be any Republicans on the ballot, to which the voter stated that “I know which one I don’t want, so it’s worth voting against that person”.

4. An elderly woman and her daughter stated that they were immigrants, and American citizens. They wanted to vote, but were technically Republicans. We went over the sample ballot and I again pointed out that there were only Democrats on this ballot. They still wanted to vote. We discussed the pros and cons of each candidate, especially as far as their statements and platforms in regard to immigrants, and both mother and daughter went inside to vote.

5. It appeared that the youngest voters were well informed and did not require any explanations about the ballot. They already knew who they wanted to cast their vote for.
Poll watching in Winchester was well worth it and quite interesting.

I would volunteer again!

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