Participating in democracy

  • November 3, 2020
  • |
  • Bill Droessler

One element of Environmental Initiative’s new strategic plan is that we collectively want to see some change in our world. As a group, while we can talk with the best of them, we have a heavy bent toward action. We do things. Consistent with this inclination, Environmental Initiative is giving everyone election day off. Many of us are volunteering our time and efforts to keep our democracy working. Here are a few of our stories.

One of our staff spent much of their childhood on campaigns, and many of their earliest memories include activities like stamp licking, fundraiser letter-folding, and walking in parades. Every year, they use their Political Contribution Refund on a state-level campaign and urge friends and family to do the same (doing so supports Minnesota’s underused campaign financing program), and each election cycle they can be found getting out the vote. Although voting and supporting others’ voting rights are just a sliver of the many ways people can participate in civic life, this staff member feels that elections are an opportunity to recognize people’s ability to think critically and make decisions for their community’s benefit and finds that worth honoring.

When voting technology began rapidly changing in the early 2000s, the local middle school received the old voting booths to use in school council elections. Being familiar with the machines having gone with their parents, one staff member assisted fellow students with understanding how to cast their ballots. Thus began this staffer’s role as an election judge in 2016, with wholehearted support from EI leadership. Over time, our colleague found their way to the Poll Book and Registration Specialist Position—meaning that they typically check people in all day. Their favorite parts of being an election judge revolve around the registration process: helping potential voters navigate same-day registration process and increasing the confidence of other election judges as they become more familiar with the process.

At ten years old, one of our staff members was allowed to stay up late on election night. Their job was to record numbers from each voting machine’s tally as reported by the election judge. With a calculator, this staff member would total numbers from each machine for each candidate and referendum. Next, the wait as the head judge verified tallies and totals before reporting to the county’s election office. This colleague would then call the four local television stations to report the precinct totals – pretty heady stuff for a youngster. Four decades later, the staff member offers that voter registration is the most exciting. In 2020, their focus was registering first-time voters at multiple high schools and colleges and discussing what to expect at the polls.

Another colleague is going to ensure every possible voter gets their fair and legal chance to vote at a polling location with a history of conflict. For this staffer, it’s all about the rule of law and its proper application for every eligible voter, no matter who or what might stand in that voter’s way. It’s important that intimidation and power not be used to discourage or turn away any voters. It’s our duty to make sure the most vulnerable feel confident exercising their legal right to cast a ballot. This part of the election process isn’t about arguing over the outcome, it’s about guaranteeing that everyone can be part of the process – equally, fairly, and without fear.

There is power in the democratic process and we hope everyone who is eligible to vote takes the opportunity to do so today.