Q&A: Making it Possible for More People to be a Voter

May 17, 2022 Perspective

Every election year, our team organizes the largest poll monitoring program in Northern California. Volunteer poll monitors are trained and equipped with tools to resolve a wide variety of issues. In the days leading up to and on election day, they check for language and disability access, assist voters who are encountering problems, and make sure that voters aren’t experiencing harassment and disenfranchisement.

Recently, we spoke with Lauren Chinn, a San Francisco resident who will be volunteering as poll monitor this June, the fourth election in which she’s helped Bay Area voters.

Why did you decide to volunteer as a poll monitor?

My friends and I saw an email come through on a distribution list asking for volunteers. Language access is important, voting is important, and it seemed like a fun thing we could do together. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have done it if my friend wasn’t with me, but since then, my friend has moved to another state and I’ve kept volunteering.

Lauren and her friend joy smile and hold up their 2020 poll monitoring clipboard.

Lauren and her friend Joy volunteered as ALC poll monitors during the March 2020 election.

Can you share some memories from different elections?

I remember two polling places that weren’t accessible for people in wheelchairs. In one place, we asked the poll workers to make more space so that someone in a wheelchair could turn around. In another place, they had a closed heavy door at the polling place entrance that didn’t have a button available to open it. So, we asked them to keep the door open. In some other places, translated example ballots and other materials were not laid out on tables for voters, and so we helped poll workers put those resources out in the open.

I also remember chatting with and getting to know people, including poll workers at the different places we visited. I live in San Francisco, but for different election days I’ve gotten to travel to a few different cities and counties. It’s nice to be able to meet other people in the area and visit places outside of where I live.

Do you have advice for someone thinking about volunteering or who will be volunteering for the first time?

Remind yourself that you don’t need to know all the answers. Your job is to be looking out for people and if you have a question, you have a hotline number that you can call and reach voting rights lawyers who can help you find the answer. I don’t have to be a voting rights lawyer to be able to help protect people’s right to vote.

With the training, it’s not that hard to be a poll monitor. It’s actually pretty easy. It just takes time. The impact that I can make by setting aside that time is really meaningful to me.

Okay, last question. Why is it important to have poll monitors?

One of the things I appreciate about California is that we value our diversity. Elections and voting processes can be hard to understand even if you are fluent in English. That’s even harder if English isn’t your first language. We want voters to be able to make informed decisions, no matter what language they use. We want to make it easy for people to know how to vote and to know what they are voting for, because these decisions will affect their lives. It can be frustrating to live in a world that doesn’t usually provide access for most things to people who use a language other than English or who have a disability. It’s important to make voting accessible to everyone.

Sign up as a volunteer poll monitor and read the top 5 reasons to be a poll monitor in your community.