By this point, everyone who pays even the slightest attention to politics knows last week was a historic moment for America, with one of the best midterm election performances by the party of the President in decades. As a result, the Democratic Party has not only held onto its majority in the Senate but might even expand it, depending on the results of the Georgia Senate runoff election, and the Republicans will hold the House of Representatives with one of the slimmest majorities in American history. However, as many voting rights activists will attest, elections are not just some Tuesday in November where you spend somewhere between fifteen minutes and a few hours “doing democracy” with a little “I Voted” sticker as the end prize. Instead, elections are a months-long process of not only campaigning by political candidates but also of preparation by activists, volunteers, and government employees. Here is my story of voting in the 2022 midterm as a student at Swarthmore College.
The story began in November 2021. I was most of the way through the fall semester of my junior year, and because the COVID pandemic sent me back to my home state the spring of my first year at Swarthmore, I had never followed through with registering to vote in Pennsylvania. I had also never really followed the news much besides the occasional glance at The Phoenix as I passed by the big stack always left in the Parrish Hall lobby on Thursday. So, by the time I became aware that there were elections in Pennsylvania happening that month, it was too late. It would not have mattered much regardless, as I prefer voting in person, and I was horribly sick that day. Ironically, I emailed one of my professors saying I could not come to class that day, and he never responded because he worked at a local polling station. I felt rather embarrassed about the whole situation, so I wanted to make sure I voted in 2022.
Sometime in the spring semester of 2022, while I sat in an empty room in the Science Center waiting for students to show up to a physics problem session I was supposed to host that evening, a friend of mine in SwatVotes asked if I was registered to vote. I told her I was not, and she responded by offering me some cookies left over from an event earlier that day in exchange for a few minutes of my time to fill out the registration form. The whole process took less than ten minutes, and the only snag was figuring out how to write my address, which turned out to be even easier than we could have hoped, as the example registration sheet used that of my dorm. We then had a nice chat about “I Voted” paraphernalia, and I finished the remaining hour of my unattended problem session. Later that month, I received a letter from the state of Pennsylvania confirming my status as a registered voter. I sent a picture of it to my SwatVotes friend, thinking maybe it was like an elementary school fundraiser, and she would get a prize if she signed up the most people. As far as I know, the only prize they receive is maintaining American democracy, but I feel like they also deserve a bracelet or a keychain.
In October, I stopped by the table SwatVotes held for last-minute voter registration information. I told them that I knew I was registered, but did not know where my polling place was. They asked for my dorm, pulled up a spreadsheet on one of their laptops, and told me it was the Swarthmore-Rutledge School, but that I should not worry about it since there would be shuttles busing people to and from polling places. I received another cookie for my time.
Finally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, comes around: Election Day. I had set an alarm the night before for 7:45 a.m. because I read in an email that the first shuttles would leave at 8:00 a.m., and did not want to wait in any lines. I headed to the Rose Garden and received a donut, a pink example ballot, and a “thank you” from someone working for the Swarthmore Get Out the Vote Committee. I rode the shuttle down to my polling place, and after asking a kind poll worker where the polls actually were, I found where to go. I just needed to tell the folks with the poll books and the ballots my last name and show them my OneCard to get my first Pennsylvania ballot. My combined minutes of looking at the election posters in Narples and the example ballot from earlier had trained me well for this day. Funnily enough, I ran into my former professor working at this polling station, and after a brief exchange of hellos, he pointed me to the machine to submit my ballot. I waited maybe ten seconds, and the machine told me my vote had been tallied. I had a strange encounter leaving the polling station, though: as I walked out, a man came up from behind me and patted me on the shoulder, thanking me for coming out and voting. I assumed he was another poll worker or voting committee member, as I had been thanked a handful of times already that day, but then he pointed at me and yelled, “Hell yeah, brother! We’re gonna take this country back and beat ‘Lyin’ Biden!’” I felt rather embarrassed that after looking at me for a total of maybe five seconds, he not only incorrectly clocked me as a Republican voter but also thought that I was the type to appreciate being loudly identified in public. Red and embarrassed, I slinked away from him quietly after an awkward “haha.” Not wanting anyone else to see me, I walked back to campus.
So, to anyone who still might think that voting as a Swarthmore student is not worthwhile, you should know that you get lots of people thanking you, stories that are cringe-worthy in the moment but funny in retrospect, a handful of treats, AND an “I Voted” sticker out of it. Oh, and democracy, that’s pretty important too.