This article was featured in the May 2021 issue of Political Science Today, a new member magazine of the American Political Science Association. To read the full article in Political Science Today, click here.
Mason Reece, Rice University
In the 2018 election, I realized that no matter how election code is written, personal interactions with poll workers can be the difference between enfranchisement and denial of the right to vote. I watched Rice students leave our polling place frustrated, confused and disenfranchised by poll workers who misunderstood Texas’ complex voter ID laws. In 2020, rather than watch my peers be unfairly denied again – I took action. I persistently contacted local party leaders and county officials until I was elected precinct chair and appointed as the Election Day judge at Rice, the first student to do so in recent memory. I had never served as a poll worker, but my dedication and proven knowledge of the election code would bring me to lead a team of poll workers and be a campus-wide voting resource before the election was over.
I recruited 23 students to serve as poll workers, all of them new, and helped them master Texas’ confusing election code. In media appearances, I emphasized the power of self-efficacy; students empowering students was our defining ethos. Simultaneously, I collaborated with Rice administrators and student leaders to spread accurate, up to date voting information on all of the complex changes this year.My months of reading and memorizing the election code had paid off, I could serve nearly every voter perfectly, making sure they were supported and confident in their vote. I intend to serve again as presiding judge, but I will soon leave this campus.
During early voting, I and several other Rice students served numerous shifts at the Rice vote center, in total helping over 13,000 people exercise their right to vote. We were led by an older, experienced election judge, who helped mentor us in the nuances of the election code and practical considerations for the polling location. My leadership through training and her practical advice prepared all of us to fully serve every voter who came to Rice.
On Election Day, students would have been disenfranchised without my leadership. One of the very first student voters had a special voter ID, and a non-student, experienced, poll worker incorrectly denied the student their right to vote before I noticed, stepped in and asserted the law. Throughout the day, over 20 students with the same situation were able to fairly vote. My months of reading and memorizing the election code had paid off, I could serve nearly every voter perfectly, making sure they were supported and confident in their vote. I intend to serve again as presiding judge, but I will soon leave this campus. I refuse to be the last student presiding judge, and I am mentoring younger poll workers so they too can ensure an equitable voting process.
The American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Electoral Assistance Task Force hosted an essay contest asking undergraduate students who served as election workers in polling places to submit brief essays reflecting on their experience.