By Olivia Wang
Last weekend, my roommates and I woke up at two in the morning to drive from San Diego to Las Vegas. Unlike most people who head to Vegas for the weekend, we had no plans to stop at the Strip and make the sort of memories that would stay in Vegas (though that would have been a nice addition). Instead, we spent our Saturday observing at a voting poll.
You may be wondering, what exactly did poll observing entail? Well, it’s quite literally what it sounds like. We sat inside an air-conditioned tent from nine in the morning until seven at night, watching democracy in action. And why Vegas of all places? Because Nevada is a swing state in this election, so we thought observing might have been interesting.
In short, our job was to make sure that everything went smoothly, that lines were kept short, and that nothing even close to voter suppression or harassment would happen. It may sound like an uneventful day, but as a first-time voter, I will say that I was thoroughly entertained and inspired. There was a communal sense of celebration in the air. Despite a global pandemic, despite an economic recession and despite an increasingly polarized society, the right to vote was still celebrated — the poll workers made sure of it. One of the first questions a poll worker would ask each voter was whether or not they were a first-time voter. Each time someone answered yes to the question, the poll worker would yell “first-time voter,” to which everyone in the tent erupted in celebration. Importantly, many of these first-time voters were in fact middle-aged adults who, for the first time in their life, felt a need to make their voices heard.
When the political climate is hostile as it is today, when every news channel and social media post is a direct attack on someone or something, this sort of camaraderie was something that I needed to witness. Regardless of gender, race, political affiliation, everyone was welcomed into the polling booth.
Overall, I applaud the Clark Country polling station for its enthusiasm, cleanliness and efficiency. There were few problems throughout the day, and when a problem did come up, the poll workers solved it with common sense and respect. Of course, the polling station that I observed was only one of thousands around the country, and certainly not every polling station is line-free and welcoming to all — but I want to paint a picture of what democracy can and should look like.
If your professors canceled classes today, I beg of you: Opt-in to this democratic process if you haven’t already. Do not waste the day. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, there are thousands of undecided voters out there who will play a critical role in how this election turns out. I urge you to dedicate a bare minimum of 10 minutes to anything that you think may help the election, whether that be phone banking (it’s too easy — just Google it), double-checking that your friends and family have voted or posting to your social media platforms to encourage and help people vote properly. Regardless of the election outcome, I want us as a community to be able to say that we did everything we possibly could.
I have not always been engaged in politics. Four years ago, I moved to this country to start high school. My first semester coincided with the 2016 presidential election. I remember on the evening of Oct. 19 during my freshman year, the girls in my dorm (at boarding school) convened around the TV to watch the final presidential debate. Unlike everyone else, it was my first time intentionally tuning into a political channel. Immigration, healthcare, police brutality. Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, pro-choice and pro-life, red-state and blue-state. These words made up a language unknown to me. But after four years of observing and learning, I feel almost fluent. In this election cycle, I am casting my mail-in ballot, observing at the polls, and phone-banking with my roommates; I hope you opt-in, too.
Contact Olivia Wang at owang24 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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