As a 16-year-old high school student, my experience volunteering at my local polling station during the recent elections was a mixed bag. I felt proud doing my civic duty, but it was also really hard at times.
A week before the big day, I received a training from two instructors. The training session started right away, which was good, but I got lost because there were so many jobs to do and the trainers explained them too fast for me.
The first instructor demonstrated how voters should turn in their ballots and how we can assist them. That was easy enough. The most helpful thing was that they showed us short videos on what to do at the election polls step-by-step.
But then second instructor came in and took over in the middle of the training, which was kind of frustrating because I couldn’t really understand some of the information he was providing.
A week later, when Election Day came, I walked into my assigned polling place feeling nervous because it was my first time serving as an election poll worker and I didn’t think I was ready. I didn’t want to say anything stupid or do something wrong. I wanted to make sure every citizen that came in felt confident, comfortable and happy about voting that day.
I was a little confused when I got there because I didn’t know where to go and what to do. Soon enough another volunteer approached me and told me to start setting up the booths and ballot box. After that, I was assigned to put all the information out on the main table.
I was still nervous, this time, because he didn’t tell me how the information should be set up on the table. Luckily, I had a guidebook and a checklist given to me on my training day. They were very helpful and came in handy. I flipped through the pages, found out how to set up the table and a lady at my table helped me finish setting up.
We opened the polls at 7 a.m. sharp and people began showing up. Overall the morning was slow and even a little boring. But around 6:30 in the evening the pace picked up and more people began to pour in.
The line grew very long, stretching out the door. It was kind of stressful because there were only three of us working at the election table and we could only take one or two people at a time so some of those in line got impatient.
One frequent problem was that a lot of people who were registered to vote-by-mail said they never received their mail-in ballots. A lot of voters complained that their names did not appear on the roster list, while others discovered they had been registered with a party other than the one they had selected. One lady was so mad that she did not want to vote anymore, because, she said, it was the second time they registered her party wrong.
All of these people had to fill out provisional ballots, which took more time and held the line up. People also tended to be scared that their provisional vote might not count, even though reports show that 90 percent of provisional ballots are ultimately counted.
Apparently, these issues were pretty widespread across LA County.
Based on my experience, and probably the experience of other polling station volunteers, there are a few simple things the county can do to resolve these problems.
For starters, officials can increase the number of volunteers to at least six per table so that lines can move more quickly and voters don’t grow frustrated and decide, like the woman mentioned above, to give up.
Another solution would be to improve the training for volunteers by making sure that instructors provide the information in a way that we can all understand. They need to be good, clear communicators and explain everything thoroughly so that come Election Day we know what we’re doing.
Lastly, trainers should give volunteers at least one extra training day where we get to play out what will happen when we are at the polls. Having some real-life experience will help when we have to assist confused or angry voters.
At the end of the day, despite the frustration, volunteering made me feel more like a true American. And come November, California has another chance to get it right.