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Volunteering at the Polls

Whether you personally set out this November 8th to stand Stronger Together or Make America Great Again, it’s hard to deny that the beast of American politics is an incredibly intricate, emotionally charged, often antagonizing, and sometimes painfully slow process. It has always amazed me to see that America is not alone in the way we closely follow and scrutinize our political landscape: our elections are anticipated, praised and torn apart from every corner of the world. Results aside, this election was historic. We saw the first businessman mogul represent one party, while the first woman to capture a major political party nomination embodied the other. We saw an overwhelming turnout and a complete upset of the polls which have dictated our lives for the last year.
The right to vote is a right that Americans are proud of. We cling to the comfort that our voices contribute to the future of our nation, while the issues and candidates we vote for don’t always end up the victor, the age-old expression is true: you can’t complain about the outcome if you don’t vote.

After depositing my own vote this year, I performed another civic duty: I volunteered. Arriving as Poll Watcher at one of Missoula’s polling locations, my job was to prevent protestors from rallying outside the doors and ensure that legal voting protocols were met by election officials. It also consisted of another component:  people watching.

I was amazed at how differently electors at the polls treated their experience. Some entered the room in stride – their minds already made up and choices solidified. Others came into the room and waited for a booth in uneasy silence – seemingly unsure of who they were going to vote for or even why they bothered to show up in the first place. Some fumbled when asked for their mailing address and others gave more than one. Certain voters entered their booths and exited again in a matter of minutes, their ballots filled out and ready to be counted. Others spent up to 20 minutes within the confines of their booths, carefully reading each name and sentence in order to fully understand the initiatives for which they would vote yes or no. A handful of voters didn’t seem to mind if their votes were public knowledge - opening their secrecy folders and exposing the contents to the election officials when asked to tear off the stubs at the bottom of their ballot. In contrast, others painstakingly held the folder tightly closed as they attempted to rip off the stubs without revealing a single blank corner.    

Four minutes before Montana’s polls closed, a lone voter came sprinting up the hallway and crashed through the doors. Bending at the waist, he frantically sucked in a few breaths of air before looking up again and asking if his vote would still count. “You’re just in time,” came a comforting reply. The man gratefully accepted his ballot and stepped inside a booth – the last at our location to cast his hopeful voice into the mix.

The man’s determination to vote brought tears to my eyes: proof that even if the election doesn’t go the way you want it to, the right to vote is a right we are lucky to have.

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