My day at the polls

Tabitha Parent, Senior Reporter

WEB EXCLUSIVE While Convent students lay asleep in their beds and visions of TikTok videos danced in their heads, I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock screeching at me from across the room at the pleasant hour of 5 a.m. It was Super Tuesday and in less than an hour, I would be off in a small garage in the Richmond district working at the polls. 

It was still dark out when my mom drove me the 12 blocks to the polling place and we sat there in the car until the polling inspector showed up and we could be let in. The garage was dimly lit and cold, and I was glad that the owners of the house had taken the liberty of setting up the booths the night before so we poll workers would have less of a rush setting up in the morning. 

The rest of the setup process went by in a flash. Two more high school volunteers arrived and I began to feel more comfortable because the adults had previously outnumbered me three to one. Around 6:50 a.m. we opened the garage and almost immediately a line began forming, curving out the garage and down the street. One of the other high schoolers and I took our place at the poll workers table and began processing the voters.

It was a rough start, let me just say. For starters, all three of the high school volunteers (me included) had never worked at a polling place before, so regardless of the training that we attended at City Hall nothing had prepared us for the chaos that is a polling place right before work hours. After being passive-aggressively yelled at more than a few times, but finally feeling like we had gotten the hang of things (mostly because the line was finally shortening as voters went off to work) we faced our first big blow-up of the day. It went a little something like this: 

Me: Hello! Are you here to drop off a mail-in ballot or to vote in person? 

Lady in line with her young daughter: Vote in person, please!

Me: Great! May I have your first and last name, please? 

**She gives me her last name and I notice that she has a note listed underneath it: VBM-Issued. This means that she should have received a ballot in the mail.**

Me: So it says here that you should have received a ballot in the mail. Do you have that with you by any chance? 

Her: *visibly confused* No, I never received one, I don’t vote by mail ever. 

Me: Ok! In that case, you can still vote provisionally here. You’ll just need to fill out this envelope. 

*All of a sudden, she starts wailing. And when I say wailing, I mean wailing, wailing.*

Her: You can’t do that! I don’t want to vote provisionally! You are denying me my right to vote! You. Are. DENYING ME!

Me: I’m so sorry ma’am, but since it says that you had a mail-in ballot issued to you, I can’t let you vote in the standard way. We need to ensure that you haven’t voted twice so the provisional ballot is the way to. It has all of the same candidates and ballot measures listed on it, but it will just be counted a little bit later so that the Department of Elections can double-check and make sure that you haven’t voted twice.

*At this point, she seemed like she was about to cry. I was about to cry too.*

Her: *Huffing* Well I’m going down to City Hall! This is just ridiculous!

Me: Okay, ma’am that’s perfectly fine, but I am sure that they are just going to tell you the same thing— that you will have to vote provisionally. 

Her: You are all denying me my right to vote! 

At this point, one of the adult poll workers had to step in and calm her down so that I could continue to process the voters behind her. She eventually left, presumably to visit City Hall and hopefully clear things up. After that, things ran smoothly for a while. And then we hit another little bump in the road. 

Me: Hello! Are you here to drop off a mail-in ballot or to vote in person?

Man with a very large backpack: Here to vote!

Me: Great! Can I have your first and last name, please? 

*He gives me his name and I notice, that once again he also has a VBM-Issued note.* 

Me: *Running through my spiel* So it says here that you should have received a ballot in the mail. Do you have that with you by any chance? 

*This time the reaction that I got was more than visibly confused at first. He seemed very angry.*

Him: No, that isn’t right. I never vote by mail, in fact, I make a point to never vote by mail. I don’t trust it!

Me: *Showing him my roster* I’m so sorry, but that is what you are listed as here on my roster. 

Him: *In a very passive-aggressive voice* Frankly, this is deeply alarming. I feel that you are interrupting the democratic process. I cannot stress enough how alarmed I am by the fact that it says that I was issued a mail-in ballot. I never vote by mail, never have and never will. I frankly am deeply concerned about this. It is alarming!

One of the adult poll workers: We completely understand, sir, but there isn’t anything that we can do about that. You can still vote provisionally here though. 

Me: *In my head* Yeah, what she said!

Him: Welllllll, I would really rather not do that. But if that is the best that you can do, I would still like to vote. 

*He accepted the provisional envelop and ballot and huffily went off to one of the booths. 

After that enlightening glimpse into conspiracy theorist America, I really hoped that that was the last that I was going to be seeing of any more kooky characters. Oh, how wrong I was. Things slowed down after 8 a.m. when everyone was finally off at work so I had a chance to chat with the other poll workers and eat some Girl Scout cookies. 

I learned that one of the women who lived in the house that we were polling at was actually a German citizen. She told me that because she couldn’t vote and still felt very strongly about being involved in the democratic process, she decided to become a poll worker and get as close to the action as she could, which I found extremely admirable. She also told me that she believes that the voting age should be even lower than 18, as the ballot measures and candidates will still affect the lives of younger citizens. She also said that the fact that 18-year-olds could register to serve in the army but couldn’t drink was ridiculous, but perhaps that is a conversation for another day. Some interesting food for thought, though. 

The middle of the day was pretty slow. Mostly, I ate a lot of Girl Scout cookies and read my book. It was pretty boring at that time, I have to admit. But my mom decided to come in and vote at my precinct (even though she wasn’t registered there— which meant she had to vote provisionally) so that I could have some company for a little bit. It was during this lull in voters, that the most stressful event of the day occurred. Later, I would consider this the highlight, but at the moment I was extremely lost. 

Me: Hello! Are you here to drop off a mail-in vote or to vote! 

Man with a heavy Russian accent: Vote!

*I checked his name on the roster and he did have a VBM-issued note, so after explaining what that meant (thankfully he did not have a problem with that) I went to confirm that the party I had listed for him was still the one that he wished to receive a ballot for. 

Me: So this is the current party that I have you listed with (DEM). Is that still correct? 

Him: No, no, no. Only Republican. Mr. Trump is my guy. 

Me: Ok! In that case, if you would like to permanently change your party to Republican, you can fill out the provisional envelope and check that option and you will be good to go for all future elections. 

Him: Yes, Republican always. 

Me: Alright then. Here you go, if you could just fill out this envelope, please. 

*I gave him the pink provisional ballot envelope so that he could fill it out. He motioned that he couldn’t read the envelope, either because he didn’t have his glasses or couldn’t read English, so I went around to the other side of the table to help him fill it out. 

Me: Ok! Now that we’ve filled that out, here is your ballot and you can make your way to one of those booths to fill it out. 

Him: I cannot read the ballot. 

Me: Ok, would you like some assistance? 

Him: Yes. 

*I followed him over to his booth and proceeded to read out each contest that was listed on the ballot.*

Me: Ok for President of the United States the candidates are—

Him: Donald Trump.

Me: Alright then, Donald it is. Next on the ballot is the contest for United States Representative, District 12. There is John Dennis and he is an independent businessman whose party preference is Republican. 

Him: Yes, yes! Pick Republican. 

Me: Okay, but there are other Republicans listed for this contest, there’s also Deanna Lorraine and she is a consultant and author. 

Him: Put Republican. 

Me: Okay, yes, Republican. But which one? 

Him: First Republican. 

*So I marked John Denniss on the ballot. Luckily on the next two contests for State Senator, District 11 and State Assembly Member, District 19, there was only one Republican for each contest listed so we didn’t hit any issues there. We did, however, run into an issue when we came to the contest for nonpartisan offices like Judges of the Superior Court. 

Me: Okay so this contest is for judges and they don’t have parties so no Democrat and no Republican. 

Him: Yes, Republican. 

Me: No, there are NO Republicans on this contest. 

Him: Ok, put the first one. 

*So I marked the first candidate for each contest. Finally, we got to the ballot measure and propositions.*

Me: Okay so these are the propositions and I’ll just read them out, I guess. This is proposition 13 and it authorizes bonds for facility repair, construction, and modernization… 

Him: I do not know what any of this means. What do you think I vote? 

Me: *Internally freaking out* Oh my gosh, this is illegal I can’t vote for him. This is so illegal and I’m interfering with the democratic process and the police are going to find me and then I’m going to go to jail for voter fraud and then I’ll never get to see my dog again and my mom is going to wonder what happened to me and just oh my gosh. *Aloud* Ummm, sir I don’t feel comfortable making that call for you. 

Him: I do not know, so I ask you what you think. 

Me: Ummmmm. 

*After the longest pause of my entire life, he decided to vote yes on all propositions and left the building having successfully voted for Trump, his main mission.* 

It seemed crazy to me that people who are completely unaware of what they are even voting on were able to come in and vote, but he was a citizen and he was registered to vote so I couldn’t exactly deny him his rights. It was his right to ask for my assistance in filling out his ballot, but I wasn’t sure the extent to which I was allowed to fill in his ballot. I just made sure that he confirmed every action that I filled out on his ballot, so let’s hope that’s enough. 

Closing the polls, which should have been a relief after a long 15-hour workday, was even more stressful than opening them. We had to count EVERYTHING — all of the voided ballots, all of the provisional ballots, all of the signatures in the roster — anything that a voter had so much as looked at had to be counted. 

When the clock finally struck 9 p.m., I left with a finished book and an almost empty bag of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels, but also a sense of accomplishment. The whole day, people had relied on me to make sure that they could do their duty and vote, which I view as a huge responsibility. So while I was not glad to wake up at 5 a.m., sit in a freezing garage all day and have to deal with San Francisco’s wackiest, I was proud to have taken part in our country’s democratic process.