The sign, hung from a table in the crowded high school lobby, triggered an urgent instruction: "DO MORE THAN VOTE!"
Nina Uzick had done more almost every day for weeks. As the 2018 general election drew near, the retired Electoral School Election Commissioner had taken her beloved exercise equipment – Little Bertha, she calls the election marker, and Big Bertha, the election scanner – to reach events in Montgomery County.
Uzick had helped to register voters in senior centers, public libraries and outside metro stations. And she was here in the middle of a clear night in mid-October, examining the lineup of teens and parents pouring through the front doors of Montgomery Blair High School at Silver Spring for a training session with the state's Future Vote program – an initiative for recruiting funds and high school students eventually become active voters and volunteers.
"Are you 16? Are you registered for vote? "Uzick asked a teenager in a black hoodie.
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, filling out the pre-registration forms that would allow him to vote when he was 18 years old.
"When did you register as a pollster?" She asked.
"Two days ago."
"Okay," Uzick said. "You will receive an e-mail from the Electoral Commission. you to have to open this e-mail. "
In the context of one of the most anticipated elections in recent history – clouded by concerns over election integrity and passionate debate over restrictive voting laws passed in recent years – everyday citizens like Uzick focus on the behind-the-scenes volunteer making the democratic process actually possible.
In Montgomery County alone, more than 3,000 people have completed hours of training (or accept a modest scholarship – usually between $ 60 and $ 300).
"People have no real sense of what it takes to hold elections," said Greg Humes, another adjudicator who often works with Uzick at Outreach and Future Vote events. "It depends on the people to want in order to do this."
Uzick and Humes, both 66, have been there for decades and they want a new generation to do the same. So they spent another weekday sorting the paperwork in front of an auditorium of eager tweens and teens. Future Vote students would spend the upcoming election cycle welcoming voters, keeping the polling stations clean, putting directional tape on the floor, distributing the "I've Voted" stickers, and showing people to the next bathroom.
Small things, all in the service of the big deal. Uzick knows why she is looking for new voters at her polling station, and insists on accompanying her volunteers in a round of loud applause when someone makes their first choice.
"When you first vote for a teenager or naturalized citizen, or an immigrant living in a country she could not vote for," Uzick said, shaking his head. "They understand the power we have in this country."
Uzick volunteered first As an election official in 1972 – seven years after the Voting Rights Act – anchored the registration of voters and electoral protection for racial minorities, and one year after the Vietnam War sparked protests against the 26th Amendment, giving adults between 18 and 21 the right to vote. She grew up in Hebrew with her Jewish family and her Texans in her hometown of Houston, which meant she could help translate for non-English speakers.
Her family sparks her sense of civic duty, she said. She became a panel judge shortly after moving to Maryland in 2001 with her husband and daughter. After years of volunteering, she and Humes were both hired on a part-time basis in 2015 to help connect with voters.
Gilberto Zelaya, outreach coordinator for Montgomery County Election Commission, describes the couple as "All-Stars." Uzick, who wears her hair in a long, gray-striped ponytail, has the vivacious and assertive personality of someone who has commanded a classroom for decades. Humes, an independent IT specialist who is constantly dressed in a polo shirt, is more stoic. Uzick is a Democrat. Humes is a Republican. Both served on election day as chief judges, translators and all-around problem solvers at polling stations – roles that are strictly impartial by nature.
But not everyone understands that. When Uzick is publicly stationed at her voter registration table, she is sometimes greeted with sarcasm or skepticism. "They say," Well, I can not get enough Your Party, "she said," and I say, "Do you know which party I am? Is it emblazoned on me?" She rolled her eyes. "I do not maintenance which party are you? I want you to vote. "
She wants that so much that she was eventually pushed to overcome a long-standing fear, she said: She has been doing her best for years to avoid highways, especially Interstate 95. But she changed her mind two years ago when she got the opportunity to attend citizenship ceremonies at US citizenship and immigration offices in Baltimore, where she enrolled the newly sworn citizens for voting.
When she arrives with Big Bertha and Little Bertha in tow, the guards often make the same joke: how long does it take for Uzick to start crying?
"At these ceremonies, there is a moment when they ask people who are in the armed forces to stand and be recognized. And you see people who are sworn in, who have been serving this country for years without having the benefit of a citizen. She shrugged and smiled. "I cry every time."
Humes also has a passion for voter access, even if he is not so demonstrative. Since 1992 he is a volunteer in the elections in Montgomery County. His two teenage children are both part of the Future Vote program, and his son, a senior high school student, planned to serve as a tribunal for the first time on Tuesday.
"We are a very professional, orderly organization and do not come with an agenda," said Humes. "We treat everyone the same way."
Always and especially this year, he is aware that this approach is not common across the country. "As other states handle it, I find citizens really worrying," he said.
He is focusing his efforts on keeping his little corner of American democracy in order, and hopes that others, especially young volunteers, will carry this ethics beyond the borders of the state.
"Seeing what it does here will give them a better perspective and better prepare them to think about these issues when they go elsewhere," he said. "Maybe this helps."
On the third day During the eight days that Maryland voted early, Uzick sat at a long check-in table in a large room at the St. Catherine Labouré Catholic Church in Wheaton.
Voter turnout had been slow on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but people kept popping up in the door. Uzick was still thinking of one person – an older man she met days ago at an outreach event. He told her that he had come to the United States decades ago as a young migrant worker, eventually becoming a citizen and enrolling in the election, but never did. He could not read, he explained, and he did not speak English well. Uzick told him where he could find her during the early voting and promised to help him if he wanted to go there and ask her questions.
So he did it. Uzick and another volunteer read the ballot and explained how to use the voice tag and the scanner.
"After that, I said," You have chosen! "And he said," Yo voté! Then he made the sign of the cross over me and hugged me, "she said and then laughed. "For a Jewish person, I get many crosses."
It only took a moment to remember that climax and then it was back to work.
A few miles away, Humes looked at the dozens of voters waiting to cast ballots in the Silver Spring Civic Building, and was pleased with the turnout. "I think when that's over, the numbers will certainly be higher than normal," he said.
It was quieter in Wheaton, but Uzick kept his eye on the entrance to the polling station, where a few rain-moistened voters were just arriving.
"Hello, thank you," she said emphatically to every new face in front of her, "thank you for coming out."