Waterford 18-year-old values role in election process
Waterford — Before voting in her first election, Sara Beth Bouchard, 18, became a poll worker.
Her first stint was at the Waterford Town Hall for the primary election in August. She made sure ballots were scanned properly and accepted into the machine. She called it one of the least demanding positions a poll worker can have but added, “Any position on Election Day is a demanding job. You have to stand all day, you have to greet everybody, you have to keep your energy up, you have to wake up at like 3 a.m., and you don’t get back until 11 p.m.”
Bouchard said she thoroughly enjoyed her first gig as a poll worker. Her mother, Claudia Bouchard, a former town Democratic deputy registrar, “dragged” her into it, Bouchard said.
“She reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s an election, we need people, would you be comfortable doing this?’” Bouchard said. “I said, ‘Sign me up.’ I’m thankful I did it, it works with my school schedule, and it’s nice to be part of the community and to help out.”
Bouchard is a freshman at Wesleyan University, where she is working toward a degree in biology. She’s from Waterford, and she graduated from New London High School. She said her professional goal later in life is to be doing research for drug design. She’s also an avid sailor and sailing instructor. Her dorm room is nautical-themed, and she loves Long Island Sound.
“At home we have chickens and a beautiful garden, so I love being outside and seeing what the land can give us,” Bouchard added.
In elementary school, Bouchard moved to the Regional Multicultural Magnet School when Waterford decided to cut funding for its Spanish program. Claudia Bouchard is from Argentina, and it was important that her daughter learn the language, Sara Beth Bouchard said. She also attended the now-closed Dual Language & Arts Magnet Middle School in Waterford.
An unaffiliated voter, Bouchard harbors an aversion to the nastiness of partisan politics, opting instead to promote unity among political parties. She said before the pandemic, when she would frequently see her friends, if a political discussion broke out, she was “the one in the back quietly listening, never sharing my opinions.” It’s possible, she continued, that her civic attitude comes from wanting to express herself politically without picking a side.
The pandemic altered this year’s presidential primaries and other elections throughout the country, causing long lines, canceled and postponed elections, increased costs, delayed results and expanded vote-by-mail options. The November election is expected to be far busier than the August primaries.
Working the polls has become a precarious task for those age 65 and older, who make up a large portion of poll workers, but who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. That’s why Connecticut is seeking volunteers of all backgrounds, including the young, to help out this year.
Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill launched a poll worker recruitment program because of the possible loss of seniors who decide against working the polls this year. The program is described as a campaign to sign up and train new and young poll workers specifically for the general election. Merrill also joined the National Association of Secretaries of State, among other organizations, in promoting a recruitment effort called Poll Worker, Esq. It’s meant to appeal to attorneys and law students to become poll workers.
Bouchard said she's aware of the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on elderly poll workers.
“I felt like joining the democratic process, and being a poll worker was just a way to show that young people can be part of it,” Bouchard said. “It’s accessible for me to participate, especially during the time of COVID, when I know a lot of elderly people can’t be a part of the polls. I felt like it was my responsibility to step in there and play a role that others can’t because of the pandemic.”
While Bouchard said she empathizes with elderly and at-risk people and understands why they are afraid to work the polls, she said she feels safe with Waterford’s safety protocols.
For the primary election, Bouchard said she brought her boyfriend to work, and he found the experience fulfilling. Other than that, “Most of my friends wouldn’t think of working during elections, and it’s not seen as a common job,” Bouchard said.
Rather than resorting to bashing her generation for not being involved enough, Bouchard said she thinks a lot of people her age are indeed trying to make a difference, but by volunteering in capacities outside the political system.
Both Sara Beth and Claudia Bouchard referenced their experience with past elections in calling claims of widespread voter fraud from politicians, such as President Donald Trump, baseless. The discussion of fraud is part of the reason why Claudia Bouchard thought it important that her daughter become a poll worker.
“Some people are saying elections are rigged, and people are making up ballots. I thought, there’s no better way to develop your opinion about how true this process is than to be a part of it, to really see how an Election Day is run from beginning to end,” Claudia Bouchard said. “I wish more people knew how the process works because it’s so clean: The machines are tested and secure.”
Claudia Bouchard added that voting is paramount to her as someone who just recently became an American citizen.
“When I became a citizen I really got into it because for many years I could not vote. As a resident you pay taxes, and you can write letters to representatives, but you’re not able to vote,” Bouchard said. “That was really important for me, to be able to cast that vote. That’s how I got into elections.”
The appreciation for democracy instilled in Sara Beth Bouchard is apparent.
“It’s a fantastic job, and although it sucks to get up so early, it’s refreshing to see so many people walk in, whether they’re voting for the 60th time or the first time – it’s a rewarding job because you get to see that,” she said.
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