- My first time volunteering as an election judge helped me realize my American Dream of contributing to the country’s drive to become a more perfect union.
“Good morning! Are you here to vote? Let’s see if you are at the right precinct?” “
Could you give me the first three letters of your last name? And the first three letters of your first?”
“Just slide it in, face up, right above the yellow arrow.”
By the end of the day, I got pretty good at giving standard instructions on my first time volunteering as an election judge in the recent midterms. Having voted religiously since becoming a citizen in 2018, trying to stay engaged in the political discourse, and campaigning for candidates whose policies aligned with my worldview, it seemed a natural step to get a front-row seat to see our democracy in action.
A varied group of volunteer citizen judges reached our designated precinct polling station at 6 am, an hour before the polls were to open. We ranged from 16 to 74 years in age, and about a third of us were doing this for the first time. We had all had two in-person training sessions, and had reviewed our print materials and training videos, but still relied heavily on the two experienced head judges who directed the show.
The day began with a solemn oath to conduct our duties with integrity. The entire process was like a finely choreographed dance, as the head judges delegated the tasks of setting up booths, firing up the poll books (iPads engineered specifically for election purposes), the ballot scanner, and ensuring all documentation was perfect. Each ballot bundle was hand-counted and initialed by two judges to ensure accuracy. It was surreal to feel the unmarked, crisp ballots with my fingers as I verified the count, each one of which would soon bear the will of an American citizen. I was one of hundreds of thousands of poll workers all over the country working diligently and impartially to devote their Tuesday to the cause of running a smooth election.
It was heartening to see voters lined up even before the polls opened. A steady stream continued to pour throughout the day. It was a sea of humanity, all representing a cross-section of the precinct: hesitant first-timers with driver’s licenses in hand, experienced ones dismissing demonstration judges with sample ballots, parents with young kids in tow, old folks with canes or walkers, office-goers and hourly wage workers with name tags or dangling IDs in a rush to vote before heading to work, and newly-minted citizens some requiring detailed instructions or help with English.
The process went smoothly, like a well-oiled machine, with multiple checks and balances, and periodic spot audits by head judges ensuring ballot scanner numbers were tallied with manual ballot receipts perfectly.
This was democracy at work. Each person making their choice, free from fear or duress, picking their candidates at local, state and federal levels and answering ballot initiatives. Politics is maligned as an unsavory exercise, something to be shunned from polite conversations. But everything in our lives is driven by politics, by the policies made by people we elect into power. Our engagement or cynicism has far-reaching effects, and nothing was more heartening than seeing young folks exercising this power to shape their futures.
Elections and peaceful transfer of power are the lifeblood of a democracy. The right to freely vote is sacred. Denied to large swaths of society since its founding, the nation has corrected course, in fits and starts and ever so slowly, to expand this right to all. Even now, sadly, so many states continue to add barriers to voting, disenfranchising and silencing the will of millions.
To me, the American Dream comprises more than some landmarks of material acquisitions. The true realization of this dream lies in contributing to the country’s drive to become a more perfect union, by increasing voting access to all or decreasing the wide inequities of opportunity. As a first-generation American, I was proud to do my tiny little bit, and look forward to more active participation in many future elections.
Ajay Rawal is an Indian American physician based in the Minneapolis metro area. Aside from work and spending time with his family, he loves to hike, bike, read, and write his musings about life, politics and society at large.