Election Day: Pitching in at the polls

November 06, 2008

For the 100 McDaniel College students who woke well before dawn to work the polls on Election Day, it was about more than making sure their voices were heard.

It was about helping others make sure their voices were heard.

“I’m having so much fun here,” said Carmen Wong ’11, who was among the college’s students who pitched in at polling stations across Carroll and Baltimore counties, and Baltimore City as part of the national Help America Vote project.

McDaniel was one of two Maryland colleges – the other was the University of Baltimore – and 25 others nationwide awarded grants this summer from the Help America Vote College Program. McDaniel was awarded $32,000 to recruit students to work the polls on Election Day. This was the first year McDaniel had been given one of the grants.

Some, including Ashley Day ’12 and Andrew Erikson ’11 who worked together at the polling station at Franklin Middle School in Baltimore County, arrived about 6 a.m. to find lines snaked around the building.

Wong, who said she had spent most of the day on her feet, said everyone she came across seemed to understand they were participating a significant day in American history.

“It’s an important day,” said Wong, who was stationed at a polling station at Glyndon Elementary School in Baltimore County. “It’s important for people to take into account that this is one of the most important elections of our time.”

Wong said the experience was a good way to represent McDaniel.

“It shows we care,” said Wong, who sported the green T-shirt made for McDaniel’s Help America Vote workers.

To participate, students had to be registered to vote in Maryland and commit to a three-hour training session at the county elections board. Students will be paid $25 for completing the training, and can expect to be paid about $160 for their work at the polls on Election Day. Those not registered to vote in Maryland were still able to help by working as translators.

Election Day duties included greeting voters, checking off names on the voter registry and checking identification and showing voters how to use voting machines.

The Help America Vote College Program is a major initiative of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent bipartisan commission. The EAC launched the Help America Vote College Program three years ago to alleviate poll worker shortages, such as those experienced during the 2004 election, according to the program’s Web site.

On Election Day at Chatsworth Elementary, also in Baltimore County, Adrienne Scavera ’12 marveled at meeting people of all walks, including older people, some in their 60s, who told her that the historical element of this particular election had been moved to vote for the first time in their lives.

Scavera said that she signed up for the Help America Vote project because she wanted to get more involved with the election process.

“I feel like I’m a part of it now, helping with democracy,” said Scavera, who woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get to the polling station by 6:30 a.m. for what was likely to be a 16-hour day.

She and others agreed the sacrifice of waking early and working late was well worth it for the experience and the memories.

Lia Snow ’10, who worked the polls with Dan Filstein ’11 at Milbrook Elementary School in Baltimore City, said the day had been overwhelming “in a good way.”

“It feels good to be a part of something so much bigger than myself,” Snow said. “It fills me with excitement. I’m just bubbling over.”