Yesterday I helped 4 different Russian women ensure they voted for Trump. Two of them were angry. Listen: angry. I’m talking Wanting To Call The Police angry over the intricacies of our ballots and party preferences and what they perceived, across our language barrier, as a grand injustice. But my job for Super Tuesday was to be a poll worker, and I swore to help everyone cast the vote they wanted to cast, and so I spent a lot of time on the phone with translators, and a lot of careful pointing to our ballots’ intricacies to help these strangers I’ll never see again cast a vote for the worst thing to happen to my country and the people I love in it.
I also helped a man cast a vote for Bloomberg because, as he said, everybody else dropped out, and because, as he said, “that Warren” should drop out because all she does is try to tell men what’s up.
Working polls for a day is the greatest test of your faith in democracy.
I got the job because I read my San Francisco Election Guide, which the city uses its tax revenues to print—in English, Chinese, and Spanish—and mail to every registered voter. The point of the Election Guide is to read statements from every candidate on the ballot, and get detailed analysis on how propositions got on there, and what the fiscal cost of passing them would be, and so on and so on.[*]
Anyway they had an ad asking for poll workers and I’m on sabbatical so I said why not.
I got trained for 3 hours on Monday, was handed a poll worker guide with all steps and procedures, and given a little bit of time to practice setting up and using the machines and devices.
I reported to my assigned polling place just before 6am. Our spot was a community room in a high-rise apartment halfway across town from me; most of my fellow workers, I learned, lived just around the corner from there. We had 60 minutes to set up 5 voting booths, an accessible ballot-marking-device for people with visual or motor impairments, and the ballot scanning machine, which recorded everyone’s paper ballots. Also the welcome table, which had our roster (I counted just over 1000 voters assigned to our polling place) and the box of 30 ballots to distribute.
Why 30 ballots? Six political parties qualified to have elections this primary: the American Independent, Democratic, Libertarian, Green, Peace and Freedom, and Republican parties. Those first 3 allow those not registered in a party to vote for them, but only on “crossover” ballots which do not contain their intra-party officer elections. Finally, there was a no-party ballot that did not include any presidential race on it.
Now print those 10 in English/Chinese, English/Spanish, and English/Tagalog to serve the city’s citizens. Our job was to get everyone the right ballot.
Well, not my job. For whatever reason, my job became standing by the ballot scanning machine to tell people how to insert their ballots, interpret any error messages that might have popped up, and help them fix that error. The best part of the job was getting to give them the I Voted!/¡Ya voté!/我投票了！/Bumoto ako! sticker, because everyone loves the sticker.
And everyone gets the sticker. Loving the democratic process, or having faith in it maybe I mean, means that we’re all equal and entitled to the same rights, and we’re all in this together, which is why quickly I came to love the Russian woman who wanted initially to call the police on me for telling her her mother was registered Democrat. I liked looking at the smile on her face when I helped her mother cast her vote,[†] and when I used my phone to show that her own mail-in ballot had been counted. I loved how she said “Thank you, thank you” in English to me, and when I tried a “Spasibo!” back, she pointed at her chest and said “Ukraine” with pride and than that language’s form of thank you.
She’s more of this city than I am, has lived here longer, and my signing up for living here means we’ve got each other, whether we love each other or not.
California is the first place I’ve lived where the people I wanted to get elected for office actually got elected. I moved here when I was 35. And I guess it’s felt a lot like getting assigned to the floor of a dorm where everyone luckily listens to the same bands as you. You feel Among Your People.
The problem there is the problem of social media: the cool-band dorm allows you to socialize only with a false public—false because manufactured from above, and ill-representative of space. Everyone complains (and does little) about how social networks silo users into feedback tunnels, or however the metaphors go. And their pleasures are clear: it feels more juvenilely easier to “live” “among” 400+ people who listen to the same bands as you than to physically live among 400+ people too divergent to make any sense.
But welcome to your neighborhood.
Working a polling place makes you meet the people in your neighborhood, and tasks you with helping them manifest their dreams of our future—whether it’s more of this president, or more billionaires in office, or anyone but a mouthy woman. They do not look the way you may now be assuming they look, and they do not have the backgrounds you may be picturing.
They don’t always fit into the narrative you maybe picked up from somewhere far away. (New York? D.C.?) This is why all politics is local, or should be. Democracy is all about living more egalitarianly next to the people you live next to. So if the only campaign races you’ve read about, fretted over, and sent money to are this presidential one, you’re not fully doing your part.
- This is a post for another time, but these guides are the answer to the problem of televised debates—which are to democracy what WWE’s “sports entertainment” is to sport, and media moguls thank you for watching both.↵
- In California, you can change your party preference at the polls that day just by filling out a form.↵