Doing More Than Voting

Read this first-hand account of election volunteer work done by one of our Davis Fellows!

Being a political science major it was imperative for me to gain real life experience in any way that I could.

I had been looking for ways to help out during this election season and my friend sent me a link to be a North Carolina poll observer. I wanted to understand how early voting works in North Carolina, so I signed up for as many poll observing shifts as I could. I filled out the availability form with information such as my name, where I currently live, email address, and my availability during early voting. After my submission, I quickly received an email from the North Carolina Democratic Party with information for training. I attended an hour long training where our roles as a poll observers were explained, and also given resources for support if an issue arises at a precinct.

After about 2 days I was able to find my supplies location to prepare for my first day of poll observing. My first assignment was at Hornets Nest Pavilion on Beatties Ford Rd and it lasted from 4:00 pm until 7:30 pm. Upon walking into the precinct I was met with people eager to help me with the voting process. I introduced myself to the chief judge, the overseer to the precinct, and they sent me outside to begin observing. 

At first glance poll observing seems very boring and mundane, but the longer you’re at your precinct you have a better understanding of how we vote in our country. Being an outside poll observer, my responsibility was to answer questions and offer resources to reduce voter suppression. Many of the questions people posed to me were about their specific polling locations, whether they needed an ID to vote, and also who to vote for. I did not answer this question directly; however being an observer for the NC Democratic Party, I made sure that my answers were non partisan yet helpful. Being an outside observer I also had the responsibility to protect voters’ privacy and ensure safety with the help of the designated security team.

Before being a poll observer I never knew that harassment and physical/verbal altercations were a possibility. 

I had the opportunity to work both inside and outside of precincts during early voting. The roles of inside and outside poll observers are drastically different but still necessary to prevent voter suppression. As an inside observer I am not allowed to interact with voters. Saying hello and goodbye is acceptable, but to make sure voters feel comfortable we are not allowed to engage. Our focus is observing and reporting any issues voters may face at a precinct.

While there are still challenges to voting — for many it can be daunting, confusing or unimportant, I found that at all of the precincts where I observed, they were ran like a well oiled machine. Each worker had a specific role and respected those who did not have the same assignment as them. The workers were welcoming and the energy in the room, despite working 6-8 hour shifts, was electric. Voters and workers celebrating each other using their voices to create change, it was simply magnificent. Casting one’s ballot, whether it be in person or curbside, was an effortless and exciting experience. 

I am so happy I took the leap of civic engagement and I cannot wait to find more ways to protect citizens’ votes.