A few months ago I received a call from the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office requesting I serve my community by reprising my role as a pollworker. I’m sure it’s because I excelled at the job back in 2010, not that they had a shortage of folks willing to undertake the (arguably) tedious task. Either way, I responded with an emphatic “YES!”
Everyone I boasted to about my new temporary gig responded with a resounding, “Why, why would you ever volunteer to be a pollworker?” It was a question I couldn’t easily answer.
The fiscal incentive of $25.00 for 15 hours of work and 2 hours of mandatory training certainly wasn’t it.
However, as a registered “decline-to-state” voter currently employed by a strong supporter of Prop 14, how could I pass up the opportunity to take part in the first top-two open primary in California– the first primary in which I could vote for candidates?
Deep down I knew I was ultimately convinced after hearing “Pollworkers serve on the frontline of democracy.” My imagination got the best of me, as it usually does, as I pictured myself standing tall in fatigues on the rough frontlines of democracy in the Pacific Theatre.
Working my first election in 2010, I learned rather quickly that the job wasn’t exactly an adrenaline rush. The closest pollworkers get to the “frontlines” is fighting against voter fraud by protecting ballots and voting equipment as well as ensuring all those interested in voting are able to do so. Quite simply, a pollworker helps voters vote and understand their rights.
At 6:00 am, half asleep but with coffee in hand, I arrived at a local elementary school to transform the auditorium into a certified polling place.
Although field polling predicted voter turnout to be the lowest in presidential primary history, I was confident that voters would show up in droves to test out the new primary system.
Seven hours into Election Day I realized that I should have brought a book: only 24 voters passed through in that time. My fellow clerk, having officiated every election for the same precinct over the last nine years was utterly frustrated by the money and time counties and volunteers spend to assist such few voters. His solution: vote-by-mail only.
Shortly after, I finally received a question about the new primary system. A husband and wife, both registered decline-to-state voters, claimed that the top-two open primary had been poorly publicized. They assured me that they had always been able to vote in closed Republican presidential primary elections. Surprisingly, every NPP voter I interacted with seemed completely unfamiliar with the previous primary ballot system and oblivious to the changes resulting from Prop 14.
To my horror, during the after-work rush, a voter walked out, refusing to vote, because the pollworkers at his precinct inaccurately described the changes to the primary. How can we assume that the general electorate understands the open primary, if trained pollworkers are unable to grasp the concept?
At 8:00 pm, after an hour without any activity, I announced that the polls were closed.
Although they were open for 12 hours, a whopping 60 people (or roughly 5 percent) of the 1,200 registered voters in my precinct, turned up to cast their ballot. Averaging just five voters an hour, it was hard not to walk away feeling completely disappointed in my neighbors.
A top of the ticket that is all but decided is no excuse to stay at home. With a soaring budget deficit, deep cuts to education, and a high unemployment rate, Californians should want a say in selecting the leaders that will ultimately be tasked in addressing these complex issues. Many more Californians need to take part in the democratic process to have any chance at solving the state’s current political dysfunction.
The top-two open primary may not have delivered the game changing results as promised, but like a true Millennial, I remain optimistic and even more eager to combat voter apathy; the future of California depends on it.