Local voices: Stories from a first-time poll worker

 

Desiree' Wilson

 

 

Where were you this past Tuesday? This week was eventful with final summer plans or back to school for some. For others, Tuesday was a regular workday. I spent the day as a poll worker watching our democratic system work at the ground level. Retired from homeschooling just this past May, I had not anticipated my first paying job in 25 years to be particularly stimulating. But stimulating it was. Voting citizens of Lowndes County steadily streamed in and out of my polling location unaware of the impact they had on me. Some of you were particularly memorable.

 

A strikingly beautiful woman with a charming accent approached my table. Looking at her photo ID, I saw a first and middle name I had never seen before. Curious, I asked if her name were Spanish. "No," she replied. "It's Icelandic." "Please pronounce it for me." She did. I have been practicing saying it all week so I do not forget her lovely name. "How long have you been away from Iceland?" "Oh, many moons," she replied coyly, signing the voter registry. Then, looking up, she offered, "I came here in the 1950s." With emphasis, she added, "By myself." What a lady! I could not help but peek at her while she voted. What drove her to come to America?

 

Another inspirational voter was eighteen years old, exercising her right to vote for the first time. I imagine she had accompanied her parents to the polls many times, as my own children have done. Her mom was helping her through the process. My own daughter also partook in the democratic process for the first time last Tuesday. The privilege we all have here in this country became clear as I watched her youthful body stroll to her first voting booth.

 

 

In contrast, another memorable voter walked slowly, but unaided, to my table. An elegant lady with a sweet smile handed me her ID. We checked off her name. Handing her card back, I looked into her face, and we exchanged pleasantries. She was a sharp lady with quick wit. Yet, there was something... As she left my table to perform her hallowed right, I became more curious. I had the feeling that her striking presence and intellect made it easy to overlook another feature. Remembering her name, I later flipped back to it in the poll book, checking her birthdate. (Yes, the poll books include birthdates-sorry!) That was it! This genteel voter was born in 1921, one year after suffrage for women came to the US. How many times had she voted? Almost a century old, she quietly exercised her right. Another woman expressed the sentiment for all voters when she declared, "I have spoken," tossing her used ballot card in the Rubbermaid container on my table.

 

However, the voter who "spoke" with the most emotion was your fellow citizen, a business owner of Asian heritage. He approached my table with a smile bigger than Texas. I asked for photo ID. He fumbled to free his driver's license from an over-stuffed wallet. We checked him off. License still in hand, he was handed his ballot card. Nervous and still ridiculously smiling, he continued fumbling to put his ID away. Someone helping him mentioned this was his first vote. I assured my anxious voter, "No need to hurry; we are here till 7pm." My voter just kept smiling. He fairly floated to his voting booth, ballot card in tow. Behind me, I heard his companion say, "Okay, so here you have five choices," explaining what my voter saw on his screen. A few minutes later, like a fairy, he floated back to my table and returned his card. I do believe he was smiling bigger than before, bigger than Texas. He almost overlooked the little pile of "I voted" stickers. I quickly caught his attention. "Oh, get a sticker, sir. Congratulations!" He hugged a few poll workers, regular customers, I think, before leaving on feet light as air. I stared at the entrance door after he left, tears in my eyes. I had just witnessed the American dream. Tears prick my eyes even now as my thoughts emerge on paper. Where is his extended family? What rights do they have? Do they long for the day to be handed an "I voted" sticker?

 

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is still laminated on the side of my refrigerator, although a little yellowed. "...a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Indeed, Tuesday our Democracy counted the voice of the candidate, the young, the aged, the foreign-born, the tie-clad, the labor-stained, and all voices, as equal.

 

Desiree' Wilson, a resident of Lowndes County since 1990, lives in Steens.

 

 

 

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