I acutely remember that horrible sinking feeling, watching the results come in back in November 2016, and the dawning realization that Trump had taken Florida and Clinton no longer had a path to victory. I felt sick to my stomach, and a wave of dread washed over me.
The past 4 years have been mentally and emotionally exhausting. The only thing that set the precedent for Trump’s term as President was how unprecedented everything was. Honestly, I think this onslaught of chaos was part of the plan to disengage a large swath of the electorate.
Four years ago, I was a Green Card holder, waiting until I had been a resident in the U.S. for at least 3 years before I could apply for citizenship. I accompanied Ligeia to the polling station, my first time inside an American one, and waited for her to cast her ballot. I longed for the opportunity the participate in the election process, at that time, mostly to get one of those “I Voted” stickers.
As soon as I qualified, I applied for citizenship. By the time the midterm elections rolled around in 2018, I was able to cast my own ballot and claim my sticker. Not only was I so happy to exercise my newly gained right, but it felt incredible when the poll workers congratulated me with applause when they learned it was my first time voting.
Those poll workers left an impression on me. They didn’t care who I voted for. They just respected the process of voting so much that they were happy to see it in practice for a new voter. This democracy is important.
Jump ahead a couple more years, to the craziness that is 2020, it feels like this democracy is under threat. A culmination of the past 4 years of chaos, where I’ve felt gaslighted so frequently.
I take my right to vote seriously, as I hope everyone does. The thought that COVID would negatively impact the number of volunteer poll workers, which in turn could affect how many people could vote, weighed heavily on me. If someone wanted to vote but couldn’t because their typical poll location had to close and they didn’t have the means to get to the next closest one. Or if lines were too long on Election Day, and although they waited as long as they could, they had give up to go pick up their child from day care.
I felt the urge to help out in whatever way I could to ensure the sanctity of this democracy, and that day, I applied to be a poll worker in my county.
A couple days later, I was talking to a friend about being a poll worker, and she referred me to a private company that provides election support around the country. It sounded right up my alley, as I’ve been worked in tech support for most of my career. I would be on-site support for a county’s election officials to make sure that their voting machines work properly. If the machines don’t work, neither would their election. I was hired on-the-spot after a short phone interview.
After some initial online training, I was given my assignment. I’d be supporting a rural county in southern Arkansas. I had never been to Arkansas before. I gotta be honest, I was nervous. How would people react to me, a butch lesbian? Was it even fair of me to make an assumption of Arkansans? (And, yes, I had to Google what people from Arkansas are called.) What I did know is that I’d be smack-dab in the middle of Trump country, and that added to my anxiety.
I figured, since I was coming into their world as a source of support, as long as I was friendly and proved to be helpful, people would be receptive to me. That’s at least what I held onto.
A few weeks ago, I was flown out to Omaha for some in-person training. It was an opportunity to get familiarized with the different voting machines that would be used by the folks in Arkansas. All that went well. The machines seemed straight-forward, and the software intuitive. I was, technically, ready for the election.
As I write this, I’m on my flight home from Arkansas, a day after the election. The Presidential race has yet to be decided, and I’m just going to do my best to shelve my anxiety for now. Contrarily, Election Day in the county I supported was relatively uneventful. I didn’t have any major issues come up, and every single person who wanted to vote was able to cast a ballot.
The people I met were incredibly friendly. I was known as Ms. Mindy, the Floridian with blue hair. I met a woman wearing a rainbow t-shirt, who went out of her way to welcome me with a knowing nod and an elbow bump. A safe greeting, both in the time of COVID and in a place where few people likely live outside the closet. I was able to help a number of polling stations troubleshoot and resolve issues, and in return, God blessed me numerous times. They told me so. I witnessed a number of first-time voters casting their ballots, and this time, I was the poll worker celebrating their effort. I had come full circle.
I believe this election will be the most consequential one of my lifetime. I’m happy to say that I played a small part in ensuring that it ran as smoothly as possible by keeping the polls in one county open. The next memory on my list that I hope to achieve is watching Joe Biden win the presidency. I may need to wait a few more hours, days, or even weeks. But, it’s all part of the memory.