Making Democracy Work

On Election Day this Tuesday, Nov. 6, you are likely to find some familiar faces at your local polling place. Each election, a dedicated group of “volunteers” (workers are actually paid a nominal stipend) will spend an entire day to help facilitate the vote in Malibu and across the United States.

And an entire day it is. Poll workers must arrive at their precinct before the crack of dawn at 6 a.m. to physically put together the voting booths, machines and a car full of equipment that makes up the polling place. This involves placing a flag and directional signs, often in darkness, to ensure voters can find the location by the time the sun rises.

The hours are grueling. After the physical setup and testing equipment, the polling place must open by 7 a.m. Then four to five poll workers who have already taken mandatory training classes the previous month will help voters cast ballots until the polls close at 8 p.m.—often without a break to ensure “voting never stops”—the Los Angeles County Registrar’s mantra. But that’s not all. The really hard work starts at 8 p.m. when the polls close and the polling place must be dismantled and ballots counted all, by 9 p.m. Even after 9 p.m., some poll workers still cannot go home. Two from each precinct are required to return all the ballots and materials to a regional check-in center. Some workers may not get home until 10 p.m., making it a 16-hour nonstop day.

Each year, Dean Logan, registrar-recorder/county clerk of Los Angeles County, thanks the armies of poll workers for their time and service to the community, ensuring a friendly and efficiently run polling place.

Malibu community activist Candace Bowen and her husband, Howard “Hub the Handyman” Ferguson, whom Bowen laughingly dubbed “a real celebrity,” were poll workers for more than three decades in Malibu at the Point Dume Club. Bowen, who says she and Ferguson “passed the torch” to others willing to put in the grueling hours, recalled first working at a polling place in Malibu 32 years ago with Malibu City Council Member Skylar Peak’s grandmother. 

“She was running the polls when Skylar was a kid. We got to work with her,” Bowen recalled. “When we bought here 32 years ago, it was a senior park, so it was all seniors.”

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She said those residents were active voters.

“I knew that seniors really took it very seriously,” Bowen continued. “They would come out and cast that vote rather than absentee ballots because they come from that era. Then I wondered why we didn’t have a polling place here [at the Point Dume Club] because we were sharing with Malibu High, Point Dume Marine Science School and other places. It took me about a year of calling the registrar and they came out and looked at the facility and that’s when they gave us our polling place here. So, all the old folks—they could just simply, for the exercise—they could just walk to the clubhouse [and] cast their vote. That was really important to me.”

Bowen explained how important voting is to her. 

“A lot of old folks will absentee vote because often they physically can’t make it into the polls. A lot of times by the day of voting—they’ve made their transition. They’ve passed away. So, I say to myself, if a dead man can vote—they’ve cast their vote before they went on to their place in the sky—lazy people passing the polls, using any excuse for them not to come in, should. It’s so important to vote because people don’t understand when you lose it can sometimes be by only two or three votes. That’s the crazy thing about it.” 

When asked if she will be voting in person, Bowen answered emphatically, “Oh I’m the first one there at 7 o’clock in the morning. I’ve been voting ever since I was 18.” 

Bowen recalled being taken to the polls by her grandmother, who also took her to her local city hall to register to vote on her 18th birthday. 

“She said if you do nothing else in life—you vote,” Bowen remembered her grandmother telling her. “Voting,” she said, “is like a part of my life. I know I’ve got to pay my taxes. I know I’ve got to vote.” 

She added the right to vote has not always been guaranteed.

“As a woman of color—my history—when we could not vote—we would get shot down, beaten down, hosed down with water or dogs sicced on us trying to vote,” she said. “I have to vote. Are you kidding me?” 

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