This past fall, American citizens were given the opportunity to vote in the 2020 General Election. I never gave a second thought to the ladies and gentlemen signing me in, providing me with a ballot, or answering my questions at a polling center. However, I do know that, in a year where many may have felt uncertainties about voting given the worldwide pandemic and political climate, election poll workers at my polling location greeted with me with a smile, gave an extra “I Voted!” sticker to my daughter, and ensured the experience was easy and stress-free.
I spoke with three ladies from the Dawoodi Bohra community of Dallas, Texas about their experience working at the polls this past November. Their responsibilities went far beyond smiling and checking names off of a list. They befriended fellow workers who arrived as complete strangers, saw young and old voters passionately overcoming odds to cast their ballot, and learned quite a bit about the orchestration needed to run an election smoothly at the ground level. Durriya Jamali put it best, saying the time she spent as an election worker reminded her of “the best reflection of American decency.”
The time she spent as an election worker reminded her of the best reflection of American decency.
Amena Jamali is a recent graduate of The University of Dallas with a Master’s in Cybersecurity and a Bachelor’s in Politics. Interested and involved in politics from a very young age, she jumped at the opportunity to apply for an Election Clerk position last summer. The Party reached out to Amena asking her to be a Judge instead. As a Judge, she would have many more responsibilities leading up to the election, including recruiting Election Clerks for her voting location.
Amena’s primary goal was to recruit clerks of diverse backgrounds to ensure voters feel comfortable, safe, and confident that their vote will be counted accurately. Once Amena secured her panel of Clerks, leading up to the election, she arranged for socially distanced meetings to foster strong professional relationships. The team would spend upwards of eighteen hours together during a potentially stressful nationwide event, so team building was paramount.
Other duties of the Election Judge include training of volunteers as well as logistical coordination for Election Day. They need to become familiar with the machinery used to collect and tabulate votes, and set up all technology at the polling center 24 hours in advance of Election Day. This includes internet routing, arranging heavy machinery with clearance for voters to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and organizing paperwork and USBs that record votes electronically. Amena and her father drove to downtown Dallas two days prior to the election to pick up all of the machinery and transport it to the voting center at their local elementary school. Judges must file paperwork in advance of Election Day, sign and seal each ballot on Election Day, and deliver all paperwork personally back to a regional distribution center after the polls close. Additionally, the Judge is responsible for the handling/processing of all provisional ballots delivered to the voting center, which are not to be handled by any other Poll Worker, as required by law. Luckily, Amena had a great team to help with the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively, that took place before and after Election Day.
Two of the Clerks that Amena recruited also belong to the Dawoodi Bohra Community – her mother, Durriya Jamali, and friend, Fatema Vohra.
Fatema is an undergraduate biology student at UT Arlington. Unlike Amena, she did not have a strong interest in politics; however, this year, she saw her parents becoming increasingly invested in the election, and they encouraged her to participate as a Clerk when Amena reached out to her. She completed the online training leading up to the election, which covered topics such as machinery set up, technology troubleshooting, and instructions on voter requirements and provisional ballots. Leading up to the election, Fatema was nervous and unsure of what to expect. She was worried that she would face aggressive voters or deal with uncomfortable conversations with strangers. She was also concerned about the approximately 18 hour time commitment being a poll worker required—not a small amount for a college student in the middle of a busy semester.
However, on the day of, Fatema learned a lot about the voting process (being a first time voter herself) and even was able to open up and make new friends. She learned that the team of clerks is meant to be diverse, with high school students working alongside elderly workers to create a team that represents the community. Most importantly, she noted that everyone, voters and workers alike, were kind to each other. Although she had prepared herself for the worst, at the end of the day, Fatema realized her fears had been unfounded.
Like many others, Durriya Jamali worried about how the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the smooth running of the elections. Her family has not gone out at all since the pandemic started, not even to the grocery store. She did have some concerns about meeting so many people in a public setting; however, her motivation to do her duty as a citizen enjoying the freedoms that the US offers her superseded all concerns.
She was happy to see that everyone working and voting at the polling center wore masks, diligently obeyed the ‘6-feet rule’ and were polite and cordial throughout the whole process. She was comforted by the local law enforcement officers, who checked in periodically.
As members of an ethnic minority in the region, all three ladies felt nothing other than comfort on Election Day. Durriya and Fatema both had conversations with people they may not otherwise have met, and spotted more similarities than differences – regardless of their dress, race, or religion.
Our spiritual leader, His Holiness Dr. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, consistently advocates for the members of the Dawoodi Bohra community to participate in their civic duties and remain loyal, engaged, and law abiding citizens of their country. Amena, Durriya, and Fatema were all highly cognizant of this advice, and participated in the electoral process with pride, both as patriotic citizens, and as members of their community.
All three ladies look forward to participating in elections in the future. Hopefully their positive experiences inspire others as well. If you would like to learn more about election poll workers and how you can be involved, follow this link: https://www.eac.gov/voters/become-poll-worker.