For the past year, stories and talk of the 2008 presidential election have been everywhere I turn. It’s in the magazines I read like CosmoGIRL!, which has stories on women in politics like Hillary Clinton; it’s on the news I watch with polls describing who’s in the lead; and even at the dinner table when my parents discussed who Barack Obama should choose as a running mate.
I find the election interesting because I am now old enough that I care and have my own opinions on many of the issues, like the environment and when the U.S. should get out of Iraq. I often feel left out when my parents and other adults discuss the election because I am 16, too young to vote. I feel even more left out because this will be the first presidential election that my brother and many of my older friends can vote in. My friends talk about registering to vote and my brother, who is away at college, talks about filling out an absentee ballot.
So when my history teacher announced an opportunity to volunteer for the Los Angeles County Student Pollworker Program, right away I wanted to join. He said the program is designed to help teens get first-hand experience with politics by working at the polls on election day. I was curious about how an election worked. The only thing I knew about the polls was that they gave you the “I voted” stickers that I always see on election days.
I volunteered for the June election. It was hard getting up at 5:30 a.m. to be at the polls to set up by 6, especially because it was my first Tuesday of summer break. I didn’t want to get up, so I hit my snooze button. But my mom came into my room a few minutes later, telling me I had to wake up. Once I was up I got excited because I was finally going to find out how voting works.
Entering the auditorium at Valley View Elementary School (just five minutes away from my house), I became nervous when I noticed I was the youngest person there. Everyone looked like they were my parents’ age or older. Once we got started setting up the polls my nerves cooled. My fellow poll workers were nice and impressed that a high school student was volunteering an entire summer day. Everyone included me in the conversations and even gave me tips. They told me this election was going to be slow and not many people would come out to vote. I didn’t even know what they were voting for. It turned out the election was for judges and some state propositions.
I handed ballots to voters
Each poll worker had a specific job. Mine was to hand people their ballot once they had signed in at the head of the table. Each party had a different ballot and I would have to ask the voter which party they were registered with. If the voter was a Republican, I would hand him or her a Republican ballot. It was funny when my parents came in to vote on their way to work. I got to help them and give them their ballots.
It got boring when no one was coming in to vote but I had books to read. When it was really slow right before lunch, I got the chance to “vote” with the demonstrator InkaVote Plus (the device used for voting). All day I had seen people vote and I wanted to.
Even though it didn’t count, “voting” was fun because there was a fake ballot where I could vote for Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson for president. The InkaVote is really easy to use. The device has pegs to hold your ballot and an ink blotter to mark your vote. “Voting” was definitely the highlight of my day, along with eating pecan pie one of the poll workers baked for the polling place team.
The polls closed at 7 p.m. We stayed to pack up the supplies and count the ballots. There was a machine that checked to make sure all the ballots were valid and counted them. Then we double-checked by counting the ballots by hand. Luckily there were only 66 ballots. I was done with my day by 9.
I was surprised that it was such a slow day, but I’m glad it was because I had time to learn everything. Even though it got boring, I’m glad I did it. The poll workers were fun to listen to (when things got really slow they looked through the book of registered voters to see how many celebrities lived in the area) and I learned a lot about the voting process.
I can’t wait to work during the Nov. 4 presidential election. It could be the election when the first black president is elected and a lot of people will be coming out to vote. I will be there to help make sure everything runs smoothly and to help people get their voices heard.
I recommend volunteering at the polls to any teen (you have to be at least 16 years old). If that’s not enough encouragement, you get a $105 stipend (but you must attend a two-hour class in advance), and it may be an excused absence from school.
The deadline to apply to be a student poll worker is Sept. 26. For more information, call (562) 462-2840 or go to www.lavote.net and click on “Apply to be a Pollworker.”
If you liked this story …
Click here to read Mindy’s story about how to register to vote.