I’m not new when it comes to elections. I’ve been voting since I was 18, but I had never participated in a primary. The last time I voted, my polling place was alive with political excitement. People walked in and out of the doors. Red, white, and blue signs were everywhere. Several smiling people handed out campaign fliers. I expected to see the same thing at the primary. What I saw, instead, was a ghost town.

My partner for the assignment, Kelsey Rogers, and I were covering St. Louis County. Since I grew up in North County, I looked up polling places that were close to my neighborhood. I was delighted that I was familiar with many of them: the rec centers where I got my first and second job, my local library, my old preschool, my mom’s workplace.

Kelsey and I left Lindenwood around 8:20 a.m. and arrived in Spanish Lake a half hour later. I was happy to be in familiar territory. I was home. The first place we went to was the rec center I worked at last summer. When we stepped out of the car, we were greeted by silence. The few cars in the parking lot obviously belonged to employees and poll workers because nobody was going in or out. After taking a couple pictures, we decided the North County Rec Center must not be a popular place to vote and we decided to try another polling station.

We drove down the street to a nearby school and were happy to see the building was busy with cars and people. After we parked, however, we realized that all of them were either teachers going in to work, or parents dropping off kids. After the school day started, the outside of the building got just as quiet as the rec center.

The next closest polling place was the church where I went to preschool. That place was dead as well. After waiting for 10 minutes, a couple poll workers parked and started walking toward the door. I introduced myself as a student reporter, and asked if I could ask a couple questions about the election process.

“We’re not allowed to,” the woman said sternly.

She abruptly walked to the door. The man followed closely behind.

Kelsey and I waited another 10 minutes and an older woman walked out the door. I asked if she had voted and she said she had. I introduced myself again and she said she’d be willing to talk to me. She told me she was a Democrat and had voted for Barack Obama. I was happy to have gotten at least one interview in.

We drove to several other polling sites with no luck, but we snapped pictures of all the places we went to. Our memory cards were filling up with images of American flags in front of deserted buildings, but our notebooks remained fairly empty. If we were lucky, we were able to talk to one or two people at a few places.

Kelsey really wanted to talk to a poll worker but we were afraid to go inside the polls for fear of getting in trouble. We had already been told by a couple poll workers at other places that we were standing too close to the building.

I got an idea of how we could get inside a place without repercussion. A friend of my family always works the polls at my polling station. My mom was friends with her husband in college and I was friends with her daughter growing up. I told Kelsey that if we went inside and asked for her specifically, maybe she could help us out.

When we stepped inside, I saw her right away, and vice versa. She ran up and greeted me with a hug. I introduced her to Kelsey and explained our situation. She told the other poll workers that we needed help with a story for school. Kelsey and I talked to a group of four workers. They told us all about what it was like to work at the elections. They didn’t want to be named in the story because they could get in trouble with their superiors. I greatly appreciated my family friend helping us out. She really wanted me to vote, so after Kelsey and I took pictures of the outside of the building, I went back inside and cast my ballot as a thank you to her.

In five and a half hours, Kelsey and I visited 10 polling stations. I only managed to get five interviews. Kelsey got a full tour of my neighborhood while we tried to scrape together any voter we could find. Talking to people was not as hard as it was to find them.

Advertisements