How does a 20-year-old girl make a difference in an election between two men old enough to be her grandfathers talking about policy that will directly affect her life and those of her friends? I phone banked, I reposted the stories, I yelled at my parents about climate change. Then to top it all off, I signed up to be a poll worker.
It was all over the Instagram infographics: make an election day plan, check in on friends, don’t watch the results alone. All the headlines, podcasts and social media ads were gearing up for Nov. 3 — one day with a crippling amount of pressure on it. So, for my election day diversion, I spent 15 hours at the polls. It kind of worked.
After waking up at 5 a.m. to get to LMU’s vote center by 6 a.m., the big thing on my mind was how to get coffee, not the impending doom that could follow the election. But when I got caffeinated and the polling stations were all set up, there was not much to do except wonder what votes I would be helping to facilitate that day.
I was not the only one looking to put my stress into action as a poll worker at LMU. Junior psychology and dance double major Madeline Sharp spoke of her motivation to volunteer, "I feel like there is so much going on in the world that I get really stressed and I feel like there is nothing I can do about it. So, for me, working at the polls is my way of being able to do something.”
Returning poll worker and sophomore political science major Alexander Aceytuno was not looking for a distraction, but rather conscious civic engagement. "In these last five days [at the polls], it's not been so much to get my mind off of anything but to be right in the middle of it, because I want to be a part of what happens. My solace at the end of the day is knowing I did everything I could."
The concept of solace is one that feels very far away right now. While helping voters and sanitizing polling stations occupied chunks of time, there were never any of the long lines I had seen on the news. All of the voting machines were never in use at once. Part of me thought it must be due to mail-in ballots while another part of me wondered if it had anything to do with Westchester’s predominately upper income, white population. Not much voter suppression here. Either way, there was ample time for checking the election counts and projections as they came in, calculating which states would go blue and which would stay red.
Breathers came in the form of a surprising number of dogs at the polls. LMU’s very own therapy dog Buster visited, along with voters bringing in their own. There were a number of voters taking selfies with their ‘I Voted’ stickers and a family taking a photo to commemorate their first time voting. These were bright spots in a day shadowed by shady tweets from the commander-in-chief and pictures of boarded-up storefronts prepared for an outcome we still don’t know.
When 8 p.m. came around and we shut the doors of the polling center, counted up the ballots and all the poll workers went their separate ways, the weight of the day settled in. As much as I feel like I did all I could to work for the outcome I hope for, as election results come in I cannot help but wonder if there was more I could have done. I wonder if there is any action that could make this election not feel so overwhelming.
The work is not done, no matter who wins this election. There will always be more action items, more organizations to get involved with and more friends to have tough conversations with. I think we all want to feel a little less helpless and taking action, even if it does not distract from the reality of our world, can let us do that.