Column: My experience as a poll-watcher


Photo credit: Element5 Digital from Unsplash, licensed for reuse

Over 159,000,000 votes were cast in the 2020 election. This tally marks a record-high number of ballots cast in a presidential election and the highest voter turnout since the 1900s.

By Charlotte Tragos, Columnist

Dani Fenster and I worked as official poll watchers for the Democratic party on Nov. 3, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. You need to be 16 to work the polls, but we were allowed to “watch” because we were accompanied by my grandmother, an employment lawyer, and the lead attorney for the California Democratic Party. 

In general, you don’t want too much excitement when you’re poll watching. If you’re bored, that means things are working as they’re supposed to. With a couple of exceptions, starting at 6 a.m. and until 8 p.m., Fenster and I sat inside in a boxed off area and watched as voters filled through the room without disruption. Every time a first-time voter registered the team leader would shout, “ first-time voter,” and the room would erupt into cheers. The staff Covid-cleaned every booth after a person entered, and they thoughtfully considered any advice we gave on security and safety. The day went by quickly and was generally uneventful. As poll-watchers, our job was to protect voters against intimidation, discrimination and suppression.

The first interaction I had with a voter was with a young, disabled, first-time voter. She was denied registration because she didn’t have proof of residency, only proof of identity. My job was to follow her outside and help her fix the problem. I found her crying in her mom’s car and I spoke with her about the issue and reported the problem to my headquarters. She told me how important it was to her to exercise her voice through her vote and how excited she was. I explained to her what she needed to do to prove her Nevada residency, and she promised to return later to vote. Her story and passion inspired me. 

According to the Guardian, “analysis suggests increase of as much as 10% in youth voter turnout.” I saw hundreds of young voters, and I am inspired by their activism and involvement. I know Gen-Z’s voice was heard in this election. 

My other memorable interaction was with another poll observer. There were three women from the GOP, the Republican party of Nevada, who were trained as observers and sat with us — one unmasked, and two friendly, masked and respectful. We all noticed a problem in the location and consulted with one another about a solution. Eventually, after speaking to the team leader, the issue was resolved. The woman next to me turned and said, “Well, we’re both here for the same goal, everyone should be able to vote.” I agreed with her and smiled. Although I disagree with her beliefs with every fiber in my body, I found her kindness admirable. I wish her president would strike the same tone with voters. 

President Trump lost the election by a big margin. His lawsuits against states he lost have no merit. America knows President-Elect Joe Biden won the election, fair and square, by a margin of 7 million votes (and counting) and 74 electoral votes. 

I know we will move forward into an administration of unity, science, love, equality and create substantive change and reform. I look forward to the president and vice president-elect working to better our nation and heal the wounds of division that 45 has deepened.

A victory long-coming has arrived, and with it, an alleviation of a collective weight that our nation has carried for the past four years. We delivered Biden a deserved victory and I am proud of my small contribution to protecting votes. 

As the late John Lewis said, “The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.” I believe the American people used it.