Working the Polls Strengthens My Faith in Democracy
September 19, 2023
I’m a pastor. I can’t campaign door-to-door. So, I volunteer to work the voting polls. I have done this a few times now, and it’s absolutely a chore with a purpose. Voters deserve to arrive at the polls and be welcomed, assisted, directed, and thanked. I can do that, but it’s not exactly a volunteer gig. The county offers a stipend that works out to about $14 per hour and Election Day is long. Working the polls strengthens my faith in democracy. It’s all about hospitality, teamwork, and respect. It’s about being a neighbor in somebody else’s neighborhood.
Preparations for Election Day
Where I live in Greater Cleveland, the county Board of Elections (BOE) tries to mix it up by balancing the number of Republicans and Democrats working at each polling place–with a few Independents here and there. I live in an area thick with Democrats, so I am often assigned to neighborhoods where staffing is a challenge. The last few times, I have been located in Black precincts, and often, I’ve been the only white person working at the site.
We set up the night before, assembling and lining up voting booths according to the diagram supplied by the BOE. We make certain that electronic voting machines are fully charged and show “0” votes cast, and we check to make sure all ballots and scanners are secured and sealed. At 5:30 AM on Election Day, everything is ready, assignments are given, and the countdown begins.
What Election Day Looks Like
The first wave includes voters on their way to work. They have done this before. Voting is as routine and vital as clocking in for work on time, paying the rent, and spending time with their children. Steady streams of locals arrive with photo IDs in hand. They are informed, prepared, and determined. It is refreshing to see students from a local university arrive as well. They spend three or more years in Ohio, and by voting, they share their convictions even if it means extra effort to secure required documentation for registration. Democracy has a universal attraction, and the satisfaction of exercising this “obligation” is visible on the faces of everyone I see on Election Day, from the first arrivals at 6:30 AM to the last voters who arrive just in time to cast their vote at 7:29 PM.
As a pastor, I know my voice matters. And if voice matters, voting does too. People have died trying to protect their vote and the votes of their people. Many voters are still laboring under oppressive structures and systems that have been in place for decades, even centuries, to try to keep them from voting. Gerrymandered legislative districts continue to propose “unpopular” laws that are against the will and good of the public. This is no time to remain silent or to stay home.
Ohio’s August 2023 Special Election
The most recent election day in Ohio was an unusual August polling day. It was a special election about a proposal to raise the threshold for changing the Constitution in Ohio, to require 60% of the vote +1 (as opposed to 50% +1), and signatures from all 88 counties. Many voters in the predominately Black precincts where I worked came in “hot.” They perceived this initiative to be just another effort to diminish their vote, silence their voice. It was the only item on the ballot, so they were in and out in less than five minutes. Their effort demonstrated to me that they believe this was time well-spent. They weren’t just protecting their own freedom, they were protecting mine as well.
Faith in Democracy
Working the polls strengthens my faith in democracy, which is especially inspiring in our current political landscape. Many elected officials are not public servants, but rather, they are beholden to private interests, corporations, or the for-profit sector. Money drives decisions. And as much as some on the Hill protest that we are a Christian nation, they are loathe to fully consider the gospel narrative that reminds us of the plight of those in the margins (Matthew 25,31-46). Ironically, both the sheep and the goats ask the question: “When did we see you?” Unless we make time in our day to walk with the homeless, families dealing with food scarcity, and political or environmental refugees, numbers and statistics will have no faces, no names, no traction in our everyday decisions.
That’s why I appreciate those with the expertise to remind me of the facts, align them with sound gospel principles, and then lead by example–that is, begin to work for change. I need all the help I can get. I would be at a loss without NETWORK.
I have known of NETWORK for ages. One of the original leaders, Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ, was from these parts. Anecdotally, it has been said that whenever Teddy Kennedy looked up and saw her entering his office, he simply threw up his hands and said, “Whatever you want, Sister Catherine, I will work for it.” And former Executive Director, Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, has spoken in our worship space and NETWORK staff have come to town many times–even on a bus! I am informed by NETWORK. I am inspired by NETWORK.
Bob Kloos lives in Cleveland, Ohio and is a member of the Ohio NETWORK Advocates Team. September 19 is National Voter Registration Day, and the month of September has been designated as voter registration month by the National Association of Secretaries of State. Please register to vote, check to be sure your existing registration is accurate, set voting alerts, and find out how to help others do the same.