I worked Tuesday’s election, and by work I mean I sat at a table and crossed names off a list, asked for signatures and handed out ballots. It was the first time I have ever been on the other side of the table helping with an election rather than just participating.
I was volunteering for the Santa Barbara Host Lions, who have been doing this for a long time. They use the money they earn to support community service projects throughout the year, and they were kind enough to risk my participation.
I was amazed by the experience and have a whole new appreciation for the voting process. I started my journey in an election training led by a high school classmate, Stephanie Hull. She was as patient and skilled as any teacher I have ever known, patiently fielding the most esoteric and inane questions with a kind tone and polite smile.
It quickly became apparent to me just how complicated elections are. It is an intricate and detailed process, and I cannot offer enough praise for the County Elections Office while also confessing a total absence of envy.
My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. on Election Day, and I was out the door by 5 to get to my assigned precinct by 6 to set up and prepare for the polls to open at 7. I was a little hesitant to spend 14-plus hours in one place. My ADD tendencies created some anxiety at the prospect of making it through the day, but I managed. I arrived home at 10 p.m. and began to write this column.
Contained herein are observations from the other side of the table, observations that were not at all expected and surprisingly pleasant. It reaffirmed the significance of elections and voting, but also gave me a confidence in and respect for everyone who casts a ballot.
More than 300 voters walked into our precinct, and not one had a negative comment, was stressed or got upset. I was taken aback by just how happy voters really are. They are a friendly and social group.
I think part of their demeanor must stem from knowing they are doing the right thing, that in a small way they are reaffirming who we are as a country and how, even though it may seem as if our individual voices are insignificant, to surrender to that would be to surrender the very soul of our country.
I was impressed by how many parents brought their children with them to vote and introduce them to the process. One father remarked on his way out, “I want them to appreciate the importance of the voting process because one day they will be bringing me to the polls.” I like that kind of forward thinking.
A few folks just wandered in wanting to know more about the election process. A woman from England came with her friend and was discovering the differences in the election process. She was somewhat appalled to discover that party affiliation is a matter of public record. “Party affiliation being a secret is really important in England. We like to keep our politicians on their toes.” There is a certain wisdom in that.
A friend of mine who was working at another precinct encountered a young woman from Italy who, having recently become a citizen, was participating in her first election. She was, as my friend put it, “giddy” over the prospect of casting her first ballot.
I spoke with Tiziana after the election and her energy and enthusiasm had not waned. It was inspiring. She came to the United States 18 years ago to study at UCSB for a year. She returned to pursue graduate work and has remained in Santa Barbara since.
She loves the United States. In speaking with her I was amazed at her level of understanding of the issues on the ballot. She was frustrated that one measure that would impact her neighborhood was not on her ballot. This because she lives on a small piece on unincorporated Santa Barbara County just outside the city limits.
Tiziana was thoughtful and led with the comment, “This is a proud day for me as an American citizen.” She was so excited after casting her ballot that she was texting her friends, “I voted for the first time!” Given her tone I imagine there were a lot of exclamation points.
There were a lot of exclamation points for me as well this Election Day. Almost without exception, voters were eager and proud to wear their “I Voted!” stickers. I witnessed five, “recently turned 18” students cast their first ballots — some in reserved shyness, and some in boisterous joy. It does manage to give one hope. And finally, I was overwhelmed by the nonpartisan kindness, courtesy and community.
That’s what elections should be about — exclamation points!