Long Time Follower, First Time Voter

It was the last step into the building that took the longest. Though it took us an hour and a half to walk from the back of the 4-H center to the front door, finally getting to the polls took what felt like days. 

The wait could have been worse, though. According to Gene DiGirolamo, the Bucks County Commissioner, voters in his county “spent three to four hours in line” on Election Day. 

The long lines are a sign of how dedicated and passionate Americans are this year, especially when comparing voter activity across elections. Historically, America’s national voter turnout has fluctuated between 50% and 60%, but this year’s projected turnout, according to The Washington Post, will be 66.7%, a record high since 1900. 

The journey to the front was not quite as simple as standing in line; it was full of last-minute research of local candidates, rushing through homework assignments, making sure I was social distancing correctly, and standing in weather that felt more like winter than fall.  Despite all the components to stress over, I was enthusiastic about taking that last step into the polling center.

The line of voters wrapped and extended around the back fo the 4-H Center

I remember when I was young and would stand next to my mom or my grandmother, waiting to get behind the curtains and pressing the lit buttons. As a child, it was the most exciting thing in the world, mainly because I got to press the buttons and “cast” the vote.

Finally, I enter the gymnasium of the 4-H Center, full of long tables and the new polling blinders. After verifying my identity and registration, I sit behind one of the blinders. The ballot is straight-forward and simple, but very reminiscent of a standardized test answer sheet.

I suddenly become nervous, just coming to the realization how powerful this simple piece of paper will be to the outcome of the election. The weight on my chest doesn’t lift until I place my paper in the scanner and receive the famous “I Voted” sticker. 

The pandemic made for changes at the voting center with masks and spacing.

Even though the entire ordeal was just a small part of my day, it really made me feel like I was completing my civic duty. 

For many, getting engaged does not end with voting, inspiring them to volunteer for the chance to be involved in something good. “I thought it would be a great opportunity and a wonderful way to be involved in my community, and it was. I now know the behind the scenes process for voting and have learned a lot about the electoral system…I also am interested in politics and felt like it would be a cool opportunity and experience.” Sarah Grosick, a Perkiomen Valley graduate, said. 

This Election Day, Grosick worked directly with the voters as a machine operator and at the sign-in desk at Evergreen Elementary, commenting that there were many “first time voters who were nervous but thrilled to have the opportunity to be voting.” 

While Grosick worked with the in-person voters, her sister and fellow alumna, Alli, dealt with mailed-in ballots. “I assisted…by spoiling mail-in ballots or issuing provisional ballots. Many people came in wanting to vote in person after receiving or requesting for a mail-in ballot so it was my job to either destroy and void that mail-in ballot or send them to the Judge of Elections to complete a provisional ballot,” Grosick said. Because of her task, many voters questioned the integrity of the invalidating process in order to make sure the ballots were destroyed properly. 

In addition to concerns about mailed ballots, there were also concerns this election about procedure to avoid COVID-19 spread. “Overall, I think Evergreen [Elementary] did well with what they could manage.” Tori Beard, a Perkiomen Valley alumna who volunteered with Sarah and Alli, commented. “Most poll workers were stationed behind some sort of plexiglass, and if not they were able to social distance…Lines were somewhat difficult to manage though, as two different groups of voters were being ushered into one building, and at times, I noticed social distancing was not being fully considered [by the voters].”

Sarah and Alli also agreed that COVID protocol was handled well by the polling center and other voters besides a few hiccups. “We did have a few people that refused to wear a mask, but we maintained an even greater distance and sanitized their area heavily.” Alli said. 

Though both the Grosick’s and Beard had little trouble volunteering, Ines Altemose, a junior, had a slightly tougher experience with the voters working the Democratic Booth. “…since my friends and I are all younger, the small number of people who came to the Democratic Booth…were hesitant to talk to us because of our age so they mostly talked to the other grown-up people at our booth.” she said.

 At the booth, Altemose handed out ballots and directed people to where they would vote in addition to distributing information on Democratic candidates. She attributed the small number of people at the booth to the fact that most people voted early in the day and she volunteered in the evening. 

While the girls at Evergreen saw voters wait up to two hours to vote, Altemose noted that there were few people at the polling center at all, a contrast to previous years where “lines were huge [and] curved all the way to and around the street.”

Still, Altemose expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in such an important election while not able to vote. “I’m glad I volunteered because even though I could not vote in this past election, everyone should have an opinion on politics because we, the younger generations are the future and should strive not to enter the voting world ignorantly.” she said.

This year has seen a lot of drastic, unexpected changes, but American’s efforts to vote and volunteer has helped the country to move forward. This election gave the opportunity to interested students like Altemose, Beard, and the Grosick’s to learn about the inner workings of the election. It has also helped new voters like me view this practice as more than just a task on Election Day, but a duty to the country.

Sources: Cnn.com, Whyy.org, Washingtonpost.com

Photos: Genevieve Giammarco