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There’s no point in typing “it’s been a week” anymore because every week is A Week. But as we continue into a crumbling democracy, the growing sense of hopelessness is hard to ignore.

The fall is going to be brutal for schools and libraries across the country. We know this, given how last school year went and how the summer has turned into an opportunity for right-wing groups to protest and intimidate those showing up to library Drag Queen story times and those stealing or complaining about Pride displays. This summer is ample opportunity for these groups to recalibrate and set into motion their plans to implement book rating systems they’ve personally developed, which will inevitable trigger more book bans. Given the overturn of Roe this week, there is little doubt books about abortion or pregnancy will be getting the same treatment as those by and about BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks, too.

While “go vote” continues to be a rallying cry about stopping this — and it certainly does matter — there are other avenues for creating change, too. There’s running for school board, seeking appointment or election onto a library board, and there’s showing up to those meetings (in person/virtual or via email/letter writing). One of the easiest? Become an election judge. This may be called something slightly different where you’re at, but it is the person who sits at an election site and ensures everyone is able to vote.

Every state operates a little differently, but every state requires a number of volunteers to work the polls for elections. You can do this during early voting periods or on election day, depending on your schedule and the needs of your community. Again, depending on needs, these can be long days, but you may be paid for that time.

Sitting as a poll worker helps ensure everyone who is able and registered to vote is given the same opportunity to do just that. In some places, you may help register those showing up that day. The typical day involves setting up voting booths, ensuring that all materials are accessible and working, and helping every person who walks in to vote knows the process and procedure. It also involves making sure that everyone follows the rules of the election: no electioneering at the election site, no advertisements for politicians or ballot measures within a certain distance of the door, ensuring that no one influences the outcome of any vote throughout the day. You may also have to help direct individuals to their appropriate polling place (though hopefully more communities will go the route of DuPage County, wherein residents can go to any polling location to cast their vote).

It is a powerful and necessary way to ensure the legitimacy of the election.

In my county in Illinois, for example, I worked from 5 am until after 10 pm during the 2020 primary; the night before the election, I helped move material from the county building to the site where I would be working. This was right before everything shut down because of COVID, and despite the fact my polling place was to have four individuals on site as judges, only two of us showed up. More hands would have made it an easier day in terms of giving one another breaks, but we made it work. In many communities, your political affiliation determines where you will be sent to work: it was required where I am that we have an equal number of Democrat and Republican election workers at every site.

Go to your county’s website, and look for either information about elections or look for the county clerk. Going back to the example of DuPage county in Illinois, navigating over to their county clerk’s site will get you to their elections website, and you’ll be able to find all of the information about becoming an election judge right there. This may not be as neat or tidy in smaller communities, and if that’s the case, call the county and speak to the clerk. You will likely need to attend a training for the role, but at least in my county, that was also paid and it was held on a number of different Saturdays (and went quickly — it was mostly how to unlock, lock, and use the machines).

Election judges are important, and they’re the backbone of what makes elections run in every community. Being a part of seeing how the system works helps you become a more educated citizen as well. In an era where voting is becoming harder and harder in many areas, you can make a profound difference by giving your time to helping ensure as many people are able to do this as possible.

Any citizen of voting age can do this.

Remember Brooky Parks, the teen librarian fired from High Plains Library District (Colorado) for defending LGBTQ+ programming when the board decided to censor the types of events the library could host? She could use some help.

If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, there’s a GoFundMe set up to help her with living expenses as she continues to land on her feet after championing the rights of teens in her former library. This is the reality of what happens to those who speak up: they can often be forgotten or overlooked once their story goes through the media cycle and they’re not supported by thoroughly by a professional organization that is purportedly dedicated to helping them.

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