When we moved to Chicago, 3 years ago, I registered to vote. It’s something I usually do everywhere I move. Shortly after I registered I recieved a letter in the mail asking me to sign up to become an election judge. I thought about it for a minute then filled out the paperwork and sent it off, and forgot about it. Last fall I recieved another letter telling me that I was an election judge!
Letters began arriving last month with updates, precinct assignments, phone numbers of the fellow judges assigned etc… Eventually a letter arrived saying that I’d forgotten to take the 4 hr training class that they apparently emailed me about (!?). I logged onto the website and signed up for a class. It was located downtown across from the Daley Plaza and the Picasso Sculpture at a mall, Block 37.
I opted to take public transportation (save a bundle on parking) so bus, L Train and hoof. It was raining and gray. It always feels so adventurous and important to walk the city streets with all the other important city people.
I didn’t mind
I arrived early so I browsed the mall and watched people. Tried to find a place to park myself but they were all occupied with fellow classmates waiting for our time slot. Eventually we were all shuffled into the temp class room which was nothing more than an empty store space, unfinished walls, tables, chairs and stations for practicing all of the set up required of election judges.
It was entirely too warm for an afternoon class…
Being a middle age white woman in a city of every imaginable race can be a daunting experience, but to be the minority in this class was–interesting. 80% of the class was African American, the rest of us were a hodgepodge of colors and nationalities. My table mates were 2 older African American women, one elderly white gentleman and a college age, white male student. My immediate neighbor had cataract problems and had a planned surgery the next day. I helped her find pages, read the manual and use the tablet for practice. She shared her 8 years of experience, the “everything that can go wrong” kind.
It was enlightening
The trainers were hilarious! Comical, knowledgable and engaging. We learned about the new ballot box (with 9 seals vs 2) and the new touch screens, new voter poll finder and new rules for closing up shop. The manual they used was flown through, barely enough time for taking notes.
The crowd was fantastic!
The, “Mmmhmmms”, “Unhunnnns”, “GIRLLL-You know it”, and background chatter was hilarious. Many of these people had been judges for years and were well versed in the way the day would unfold. They lived in neighborhoods where people had once been prohibited from voting for many reasons and they took their duties seriously. Additionally,
You get paid!
I didn’t realize that when I filled out my original paperwork and I wasn’t planning on it. I knew it would be a lonnng day (5am to 8pm) and that it would be tiring and probably even boring (our precinct has extremely low voter turnout). But I felt like it was something I had the time to do and I wanted to participate in the election process. However, to a lot of these people that money was a nice bonus for a day of fairly easy work.
As I sat there taking all of this in, learning and listening to what is expected of an election judge, how they are appointed by a circuit court, how they are empowered to give everyone an opportunity to vote no matter their life circumstances (there was a discussion about homelss votes) and how the goal is to allow as many people as possible the opportunity to vote,
I was humbled
While I don’t necessarily take voting for granted, I’ve never had a problem voting. No one has ever prohibited me from voting, I’ve never had to pass a test or really even show ID (except when registering and in AZ). But for many of these people voting is a BIG DEAL. They could tell you stories of grandparents or even parents who weren’t allowed to vote. Adopted citizens who had to pass tests that home grown students can’t pass. For some people this day is a Big Day, they dress up, go to lunch and share it with friends. Often, Bruce and I had to remind each other to vote on our way home from work.
I thought back to the years of our country’s civil rights battles and the Black folks who died for the right to vote.
I thought about the sufferagettes who protested in the streets for a woman’s right to vote.
I thought about the immigrants who came from all over the world, established themselves in this country and took the oath of citizenship so they could vote.
And I wanted to cry
Whatever our cultural, political and national disagreements are, voting is still a free and relatively peaceful endeavor. I’m sure there are episodes of disenfranchisement but overall they are few and far between. And they usually make enough noise that they find a resolution that still allows their votes to be counted.
Not every country is so blessed…
And I bet there were people in my class who could tell you so