Narrator: As we gear up for election day, we hear from another kind of essential worker. Cherie DeBrest cast her first ballot over 30 years ago and has voted in every election since. But last year she decided to take it a step further and started working at the polls in her North Philadelphia neighborhood.
Using StoryCorps Connect, she spoke with her 18 year old daughter, Naima, about what inspired her.
Cherie DeBrest (CD): I remember I saw pictures of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King casting their vote for the first time. So those images were in my head, and I was actually getting to do that for the first time. And then once I got in the booth, I felt a little overwhelmed because I’d never seen a ballot before.
I remember the poll workers being older. I wondered where were the young people? It stuck in the back of my head, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually decided to become a poll worker myself.
Walking in that polling station on my very first day, which was a beautiful church, there was one gentleman there, Mr. Kevin, doing everything. And he was so happy to see me. It’s a very busy polling station and the poll was gonna open in half an hour and then we realized that we were it. I felt a lot of pressure. I’d never done it before. I wanted every vote to count. There were times when the line was out the door, so that’s when I called you.
ND: I walked from home to the polling place and you weren’t kidding. It was just you and Mr. Kevin. So I just sat down and got to work.
CD: Oh, I felt so relieved to see you walk in that door. We do things together all the time, but this was a time where we could work shoulder to shoulder doing something for our neighbors to make a difference.
ND: Do you have any fears about working the polls this year?
CD: I can’t allow myself to have any fears about Election Day. I know what’s going on in the world right now. I know that tension is high, but think of all of the people like John Lewis and Dr. King getting ready to walk across Edmund Pettus Bridge. If they can do that, I can show up at the polls and work.
And If you’re willing to take the chance to come out in the middle of a pandemic in order to cast your vote in person, I’ll be there for you to make sure that you’re safe.