This Is What Democracy Looks Like


“Thank you for your service.”

This is not a phrase I ever expected to be directed to me. But voter after voter thanked us for staffing the voting center at Hardy Middle School (Go, Hawks!) this Tuesday, Oct. 27, the very first day of in-person voting in D.C.

It was strangely touching.

Say this for President Donald Trump: He has awakened our passion for civic engagement and pushed us out of our comfort zone (passively making donations, signing petitions, posting snarky comments on social media) into meaningful action.

We used to roll our eyes at “every vote counts” or “peaceful transfer of power.” But now? Not so complacent anymore.

In August, I attended a half-day training session at Board of Elections headquarters on Half Street SE. We learned procedures for everything from signing in voters to handling different kinds of ballots (electronic, written and special), from how to dress (no slogans or campaign wear) to how to make sure the equipment and environment stayed clean and COVID-19 safe.

That was then. Soon came exam day. Remember those anxiety dreams when you’re tested on things you’ve totally forgotten? That’s how I felt the other night; I barely slept. But once I got to the polling place and met my equally anxious colleagues, it all came back.

We — poll workers and voters alike — were all-American in the best sense of the word, a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities, professions, incomes and dreams. What connected us all was old-fashioned patriotism, a desire to be part of “the most important election of our lifetime” and the urge to connect with others who felt the same way. And I don’t necessarily mean for the same candidate. (Although, if I am being honest, we probably were. This is D.C., after all.)

We fell into our roles easily enough. I stood at the ballot boxes helping voters insert their ballots (written, electronic record or in envelopes) into the proper receptacle. You’d be surprised how counterintuitive it is. Then I sent them on their way to pick up their “I voted, Yo vote” stickers, the one thing everyone asked for. After their votes were officially cast, people smiled, pumped their fists, crossed their fingers or quietly cheered.

As I say, it was strangely touching.

By the time my shift was over, more than 200 votes had been cast. It’s early yet, and I have four more days of poll work, including Election Day, a marathon starting at 6 a.m. It will be exciting. It will be exhausting.

And, if we’re lucky, it will be what democracy looks like: America at its best.

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