VOICES: What I learned serving as a poll worker in Hamilton

Poll worker Patty Mays cleans a table between voters on election day at the polling location at Wilson Middle School Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Poll worker Patty Mays cleans a table between voters on election day at the polling location at Wilson Middle School Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

This guest opinion column by Hamilton resident Jennifer Blair appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Friday, Nov. 6.

I had the privilege of serving as a poll worker yesterday at Ridgeway Elementary School in west Hamilton. I grew up in a liberal family and lived in a liberal community in eastern Iowa before moving to Hamilton this summer. There are currently few people in my life who don’t agree with my politics.

Jennifer Blair is originally from Iowa and now lives in Hamilton.  She is a freelance writer and an academic advisor for the University of Iowa.
Jennifer Blair is originally from Iowa and now lives in Hamilton. She is a freelance writer and an academic advisor for the University of Iowa.

I was proud to serve as a poll worker alongside an inspiring group of Republicans and Democrats to ensure that our democracy continues to reliably reflect the will of the people. And it was clear to me yesterday that the will of many people here differs from mine.

The voters in the precincts that were included in our polling place voted, like Butler County as a whole, overwhelmingly for Republican candidates.

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We saw first-time voters nervous about the rules but determined to cast a ballot, parents who brought children to model their exercise of the vote, and people with physical disabilities who overcame challenges of the process to ensure their voice was heard.

I was hugely moved by the will of these voters and spent much of the day reflecting on where we are as a country and what is needed to heal us.

There is no doubt that we are at a point of crisis in our relations with each other, and that is reflected in those who now represent us in government.

Media on both sides of the spectrum reassures us of our worldview but in doing so drives a wedge between us. We have lost respect for each other, and we retreat to our own camps, where we feel safe and understood.

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The answer now – and always – lies in listening to each other and remembering our shared values as Americans: freedom, justice, democracy, and equality.

I learned more in one day as a poll worker than I have in four years of reading articles about our problems. I saw what it means to people to feel represented in government, and I get it. I really get it.

I disagree with the policies and the ethics of the people who are currently leading us, but I understand the importance of being heard. I want to be heard too. We can agree on that.

To move forward in these next four years, regardless of the person in the Oval Office, we have to start talking to each other again. We have to leave a little crack in the armor to let the other side in. We have to bring a little more humility to the table.

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I feel truly privileged to live in a community now where my views are challenged. This is how change happens.

I hope for many more opportunities to hear the views of my new neighbors. I look forward to learning from you and hope that you might be wiling to learn from me too.

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This is a great city in a great nation, and it is within our power to overcome this difficult time together.

Jennifer Blair is originally from Iowa and now lives in Hamilton. She is a freelance writer and an academic advisor for the University of Iowa.

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