My Election Journey
One activist-turned-poll worker offers eight reasons to get involved. There are three elections in 2008. your country…and your county need you.
by Liz McCoy
My first political campaign experience was in 1996. At the time, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), was a vulnerable gun-totin' union guy and a covert environmentalist who stepped up to the plate and sponsored the Utah Wilderness bill after Representative Wayne Owens left office.
My most poignant memory from this campaign was walking with the Congressman in the Waverly Cheese Parade. Waverly County, NY, home to Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, was a violently conservative place. Needless to say, the spectators were less than friendly and on more than one occasion we were forced to dodge flying cheese balls, epithets and people running out onto the street, dropping to their knees and praying for us. After watching the '96 Waverly Cheese Queen get her crown and her special block of cheese, we jumped in the car and drove home. For some reason the Congressman loved this experience. I hated it.
The entire time I wanted to beam myself to Manhattan to work for MTV and Rock the Vote. It struck me that the Waverly Cheese crowd was mean-but they had the right to vote. I was involved in Hinchey's campaign because I cared passionately about wilderness, but I realized that I also cared about people voting-all people voting-as well.
For the next 10-plus years, I took myself down controversial paths. While working and volunteering for different candidates and issue related non-profit organizations, I learned about getting people elected and about blocking and passing legislation and ordinances. Win or lose, political and issue campaigns are fun. I easily forgot about encouraging all people to vote.
Then one day I found myself advocating for the right of people with disabilities to vote privately and independently (a civil right that still eludes much of this population). During this time I gained a deep appreciation for how hard it is to run an election, and I saw an opportunity to work for something far more critical than an issue or a candidate-our democratic system of government.
In November 2007 I worked for Salt Lake County. It was challenging, enlightening, fun and fulfilling. If you have ever complained about waiting in line to vote, if you have ever questioned the integrity of an election, an elections administrator or clerk-I challenge you to become involved.
Here are eight reasons why:
1. It is inspiring to watch seniors walk into the polls, slowly sign the roll book, vote and leave with a proud smile on their face and a sticker on their forehead. When you say thank you for voting, they look you straight in the eye and say "It is an honor-remember that!" or "Don't wait till you're 95 to vote!"
2. It is fun to watch a kid vote for the first time-they are twitchy and excited and proud as can be when they leave.
3. If you are worried about election fraud on any level, there is no better way to become informed about what really happens before, during and after an election than to jump in assist your county in its gargantuan effort. You yourself can be part of the solution; you yourself can help ensure a fair, secure and accessible election.
4. If you are cynical about your elected officials or our democratic system of government, your county offers you an opportunity to become involved and to show that you care about your democratic freedoms, without having to get involved with the political fray-at least for one day.
5. The county needs thousands election judges for the 2008 election cycle. Poll workers who have been working for years and years are aging, and few in our generation are stepping up to the plate.
6. You get to know your neighbors -what a novel concept!
7. Start a family legacy: the mother-daughter teams who watch the polls are relatively numerous and impressive. My favorite team covered three generations of women instilling the importance of voting within their family- I thank them.
8. You learn, you work hard and you get paid!
People around the world have died and continue to die for the right to vote, yet here in our country we take this honor for granted. Many actually choose not to vote. Although there are many legitimate reasons for this, it is a sad reflection on us, on you.
We cannot improve the system if we choose not to participate. At minimum, vote, but if you are able, and I believe most CATALYST readers are, I challenge you work for the county every election day.
There are three elections in 2008 and your county needs your help today. The February 5 presidential primary is less than two months away.
If you live in Salt Lake County, you can fill out an online application at www.clerk.slco.org/elections/html/pollworker.html or call (801) 468-3477.
If you live elsewhere please visit: elections.utah.gov or call (801) 538-1041.
Liz McCoy has worked on political campaigns in one form or another since 1996. Until recently she was the voting rights advocate at the Disability Law Center. She is currently working on a wind power project with her father-family legacies abound!