IWA Student Volunteers at the Polls

Last summer, Emily Chaires '22 saw a story on the news about high schoolers volunteering in the Nov. 3, 2020 election, monitoring electronics at polling places.

"This intrigued me very much because I wanted to know how the process worked and see history in action," said the junior National Honor Society student, who is also a member of IWA's Campus Ministry Team, and is on both the cross country and track and field teams. "I sent in an application in the beginning of August to volunteer as a high school electronics support specialist."

Her application was approved, and Emily was assigned to work at a polling place in a Kingwood elementary school. She spent the early fall in trainings via Zoom, learning about procedures and systems in place for voting.

She said one of the most interesting things she learned was that while a voter with a physical disability may have an assistant or caregiver help them while voting, it is illegal for the caregiver to tell the person who to vote for. The law applies to both in-person and mail-in ballots.

"I found that very surprising that it was illegal," Emily said, "but it made sense in the end because it is the voter’s choice who to vote for."

Emily spent Election Day at the polls, working from 6 a.m. to just after 7 p.m., when the polls closed. She chose to wear her IWA letterman jacket along with a school spirit shirt for her shift. Her day included setting up the voting machines, greeting voters and reminding them to have their photo IDs ready, ensuring no one was wearing political attire and helping two Spanish speakers cast their ballots. Toward the end of her shift, she manned the judge's booth control (JBC).

"We scan the photo ID the person gives us, and they receive an access code to vote," she explained. "The access code comes from the JBC, and is important because the access code is unique for that person to cast their ballot."

Emily said volunteering was a great way to to see how the American democracy works. She even got some tips about the college application process from fellow volunteers who were college students. She said she liked seeing how the voters came from different backgrounds. She also learned a great deal about the voting process.

"When it is my turn to vote for the next election, I will know how to cast my ballot," she said. "And I can look back on how I helped people I cast theirs."