Julia Byrne, Policy Research Intern
James Hubert Blake High School bristled with signs June 26th, just like most of Montgomery County. For such a cataclysmic day, it was oddly quiet. I arrived in the afternoon, exhausted from a morning of protesting at the Supreme Court, a stack of voter guides under my arm. The day was sunny but mercifully cooler than previous ones had been — you notice weather more when you’re poll watching.
There were numerous poll watchers there for District 19 campaigns, I spoke with representatives for Bonnie Cullison, Maurice Morales, Marlin Jenkins, and Vaughn Stewart. Everyone was both upbeat and tired, harnessing the energy that comes from the last day of a long campaign. Voters trickled in, many with the League of Women Voters primary guide marked with their choices. Some people were in a hurry, but others stopped to talk. One woman shared her concerns with the growing polarization in school funding, saying she was worried that the county favored the well-known “W high schools”.
I’d noticed literature for Hogan at previous poll-watching sessions, but there was no Republican table at Blake. The gubernatorial race didn’t seem to be the first thing on people’s minds in general, most of the signs were for county-wide races, and although the Jenkins poll watchers also had literature for Ben Jealous, the overall energy was for down-ballot races.
There weren’t many voters, perhaps because it was the dead time between lunch and the end of work. Often they would arrive in groups. A lot of parents brought their elementary-school aged children with them. Seeing them was always both exciting and heartbreaking. It reminded me of my own parents bringing me to the polls on past election days and giving us their stickers — my little sister had an “O’Malley/Brown” sticker on the headboard of her bed for years — but I couldn’t help but think of the increasingly dark future those kids were set to inherit, and how unfair it was to them.
Poll watching speeds up the friendship process. There’s an emotion you begin to recognize in people’s eyes after a while, a specific type of determination. Within a few minutes, I had exchanged contact information with the Morales and Cullison campaigns and we had agreed to watch each other’s literature. I knew Andrew, a poll watcher for the Stewart campaign, from GenOUT, the LGBTQ youth chorus we had both sung in as high schoolers. He told me about his work combating gentrification with the Warren Wilson SURJ and campaigning for Danica Roem and Ralph Northam in 2017.
Things are terrifying right now. It’s easy to lose hope, and there’s a certain appeal to hopelessness, because you don’t have to try if you decide not to care. It’s essential to hold on to the small things that remind you that the world isn’t completely terrible, like the married couple with matching “I voted” stickers who thank you for your work, or your fellow poll worker who shares their water with you. The people currently running our government might be bad, but poll watching reminded me that humanity as a whole can be good.