Jen Rubin | Madison, WI
When my kids were in elementary school I took this idea but adapted it to something 8-year-olds care deeply about—cookies. Both of my kids had Ms. Mack for 3rd grade. She was a very creative teacher and was game for organizing a cookie election with me.
The election lasted three weeks. For the first week we had a primary election where any kid in the class could nominate a cookie and make their case for the cookie. Then we voted and the three top scoring cookies advanced to the general election. Week two the class was divided into groups, one group for each cookie. Then they campaigned to the other third grade classes to garner support for their cookie. Posters were made, they did presentations on why their cookie was the best and so on. Week three was the election. I had been a poll worker for a few years by then, so I included poll workers as part of the election. The teachers were the poll workers and they checked to make sure each voter was in 3rd grade, gave them a ballot, and an ‘I voted’ sticker after they put their ballot in the box. Once the winning cookie was determined, I baked enough of those cookies for all of the 3rd graders.
I remember the thrill I had voting in 1st grade and I saw that same thrill in the 3rd graders voting for their favorite cookie. I also remember how excited I was the first time I (really) voted. Maybe that is why my favorite place to be a poll worker is on the UW-Madison campus. I spent many elections in Gordon Commons, one of the freshman dorms on campus. Since almost everyone who lives in the dorm is eighteen, it is their first time voting and there is a great deal of excitement when people cast their ballots. Most students need to register to vote before they get their ballot, which is simple if you have a valid Wisconsin drivers license or a state issued ID. If you have neither, you need to provide the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you can’t do that then you can’t vote.
My first time working at Gordon Commons a young man came in to vote at around 4pm. He didn’t have any valid Wisconsin identification and couldn’t remember his Social Security number. He had sports practice and a seminar and was quite bummed because he didn’t think he would get back in time to vote. Well the last thing I wanted was for him to not get to vote and to have a bad first experience with voting. Maybe this would turn him off of voting. I asked him to try calling one of his parents to read him his Social Security number, but he said they were both at work and wouldn’t have access to the physical card to read him the number. I asked if he could call his mom at work, because I figured odds were good that she might remember it. So he called her, she remembered the last four digits, and he was able to register.
From then on, this became my strategy with any student who needed to know their Social Security number to register. Before they left and potentially did not return to vote, I would say, “Call your Mom.” I would say seven times out of ten it worked.
Jen’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Poll Worker series. Through this series we want to draw back the curtain on who makes our elections possible and introduce you to a few of the unsung heroes of the democratic process.
What exactly does a Poll Worker do? Poll Workers facilitate the right to vote and maintain order at the polls. They ensure that our elections are open, fair, impartial, and trusted. The Wisconsin Elections and Ethics Commission has a list of Frequently Asked Questions to describe the duties and qualifications to be a Poll Worker.
Regular people from neighborhoods around the state volunteer to be Poll Workers. If you are interested in being a Poll Worker you sign up through your municipal clerk. Here is a list and contact information for Wisconsin’s municipal clerks.