Roughly $265, for me, on this weekend. That is the approximate cost of gas and hotel to drive and stay in Phoenix to volunteer as a poll observer this weekend. The role of observers is to watch for, and report, anything untoward at a polling place, and I both hope and expect it will be an exceedingly boring 10-hour shift tomorrow.
How does $265 compare to what others have spent in order to earn and protect the right to vote in a democracy? It is not even on the “paltry” end of the scale when compared to those who stood up at Lexington and Concord; who delivered food in wagons to Valley Forge; who lost limbs and life at Little Round Top and Shiloh; whose blood still lies in the sands at Iwo Jima and Normandy; who were spit on, hosed, beaten, jailed, shot, and lynched in the decades before the passage of the Voting Rights Act; who were kicked out of the house, disowned by families, and marched our streets in order to secure the voting rights of women; and who today, maddeningly, still work have to work tirelessly to make voting more, not less accessible for all Americans.
My time and $265 doesn’t even make the play list.
So why? This is one small way I can actually help protect that most sacred of American values and duties: the right to vote. I can afford $265; by some studies, nearly 40% of Americans would not be able to scrape that much together even in a dire emergency. One could well argue that I should donate the money to a food pantry and stay home; fortunately that is not an either/or option, but it is a reason that many poll observers are, like me, older, privileged, white people.
Why, though, Arizona? Why not observe a polling place close to home. Simple math. We are a democracy, but also a republic, and in our republic, all votes are not equal. Votes for senators in Arizona, for example, are roughly 6 times more weighty than votes for senators in California. So I figured I would at least get my money’s worth.
I am only here to observe, and to give guidance if someone asks about any issues they have in casting their vote. I will not ask anyone who they voted for before offering help. There was a time when Americans did what was right for the ideal of America as the beacon of democracy, and did not ask if those ideals were espoused by Democrats or Republicans. I will try to honor that history.
No matter who you support, vote; and pester all of your friends to vote. Friends don’t let friends not vote! And hopefully all teachers are finding ways to embed civics lessons into many lessons, both in-person and virtual, over the next two weeks.