Monday, September 8, 2008

From Good to Great: Taking it a Step Further than Registering Voters!


In Nashville, voter registration drives are in full swing. That is good. But this election, we need to strive for greatness. As citizens, we have to go a few steps further than registering voters. We have to make sure they come back to the polls to vote in November and train our young people to not only be registered voters but to work the polls as well.

How often have we encouraged individuals to work for the county, state, or federal elections? How many of us ever wondered who are the people who work the polls and how did they get the job? I had a friend tell me she thought poll workers were volunteers. Many of us do not know the process or that it is a paid position.

This year, young people ages 18-34 will be a deciding factor in the this election. No matter what party they vote for, I am advocating that they vote. I have voted since I was 18 and it is one of my greatest joys in life to participate in electing local, state, and national leaders. I am convinced more and more that young people are truly our future and they need to see our government at work at the ground level. My grandfather believed strongly in the power of the vote and he never let an election go by without being involved in voter registration drives. The ground level has always been at the polls with me. Voting is one of the foundations of our democracy.

We need to have young people employed at the polls to help not only bridge the technology gap but the widening age spasm with the number of new voters voting in this election. I am going full court in making sure that as many young people as possible know that they can be trained and employed to work the polls. (Our young people today are our next generation of leaders). Imagine how fast the lines will go if we had younger, more agile people working!!! I am hitting the streets and airwaves to let others know that in Davidson County alone, they need 500 new poll workers for the Nov. 4 election. The training classes and more information will be forth coming. It would be wonderful to have others to partner with as well in getting this info in the hands of the 18-34 year old voters.

Demos and Repubs alike are racking up huge numbers in new voter registrations. With that type of growth, and the constant reminders of the long lines at polling booths on election day; we must have poll workers who represent the diversity in our communities, who are technology savvy and can bridge culture gaps between old and young.

When my oldest son voted for the first time, it was a learning experience for all of us. I taught him to not only vote but to take others with you and boy did he! After voting early, he went back to campus and rounded up his track teammates to cast their first votes. As exciting as it sounded initially to the young 18-20 year olds voting in their first presidential election, they were hit with reality when they met a staff of middle age women who felt a bit intimidated by the group. Young, strong, sweaty from practice and talking above the whisper guide lines, the guys piled into the office wanting to received their paperwork to fill out the forms for their voter cards. What transpired, after the initial ask for the papers, was a clash of cultures and a view of life from different lenses.

My son said it was "okay" until they were questioned about why they were voting and if the information on their driver license were their actual addresses. "They questioned us as if we were doing something wrong", my man child stated to me on the phone. The more the young men were questioned, the more they got upset and felt 'disrespected'. Many wanted to leave and say forget it. I stayed on the phone and talked to them until everyone had voted.

Out of concern and curiosity , I paid the election office a visit the next day. The women versions of events were the exactly opposite of the team. They noted their attire and I was told the boys, you are actually a man at 18, were loud, rude and 'disrespectful'. I saw both sides of the story. I wanted them to know that my son voted for the first time and I was proud of him for bringing his friends in to vote also. I thanked them for their service and apologized for any misunderstanding.

I believe that both groups saw what they saw. Our perception is our reality.

My son's story does not have to be repeated. If we employ young and old alike at the polls, we will have less confusion and less misinterpretation of words and actions. This election will have millions of young people voting for the first time. I want them to leave the polls believing they contributed to making this country great. By seeing others like them working the polls can be a start and we can also put a dent in the time we spend complaining in the lines on election day. Voting early takes the guess work and stress out of any hiccups or surprises that may occur at the polls when we wait to the day of.

My youngest son will be voting for the first time this year. I am excited as I was when he began school twelve years ago. His older brother will be a poll worker. My sons and I are making sure that we keep my grandfather's legacy alive by registering voters, encouraging early voting and working the polls. Will you join us?

For info about becoming a poll worker in Metro Nashville go to:
http://www.nashville.gov/vote/poll_official.htm

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