I’m a WNBA Player and I’m Spending Election Day Working the Polls. Here’s Why You Should Too

Chiney Ogwumike
·5 min read
Photo credit: Zofeea Genota
Photo credit: Zofeea Genota

From Cosmopolitan

I don’t take days off work casually. I consistently work through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, and just about every other special event I can think of. But on November 3, I’m going to take a day off in order to work the polls.

When I was a kid, my uncle worked on Capitol Hill as the senior adviser on international trade in the Clinton administration. I remember flying from Texas to D.C. when I was 6 years old to see him. Back then, you could enter the Oval Office when the president wasn’t occupying it. I remember waiting for the marine to leave his post in front of the door, signaling the president’s departure, and walking inside. It was so grand. My uncle explained it simply: “This is where an extremely important person in this country has an office.” That significance stuck with me. We the people put people in that office, and no one else. We the people must vote.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

I was blessed to grow up in an era with two landmark elections boasting candidates who looked like me—the first Black president in American history and the first woman to ever lead a major party ticket. But this election, more than ever, I’ve been thinking about the importance of really knowing your candidates, perhaps when you don’t identify with them easily. I’ve been doing research up and down the ballot and motivating others to do the same in preparation for November 3.

This year, I joined More Than a Vote, a coalition of athletes and artists working together to educate, energize, and protect underserved communities. The initiatives empower us to take ownership over things happening in our own backyards. I am from Harris County, Texas, and I’ve remained registered to vote there. I am a Texan at heart and always will be; I still sport my Texas license plate all around Los Angeles. Last month, I found out there might be only one ballot drop-off box in all of Harris County, the third-largest county in the country with a population of 4.7 million residents (L.A. County, by comparison, has 398 drop-off sites). When I learned that news, I felt it was only right to go home and do my part on Election Day, helping as many people as possible cast their votes.

Through More Than a Vote, I also learned what goes on behind the scenes on Election Day. There are thousands of trained poll workers across the country who hand us our ballots and make sure we’re able to cast our votes in a way where they’ll be counted. I’ll be honest with you: Up until this year, through playing in the WNBA and even during my time as a student at Stanford, I didn’t know what a poll worker truly was. But when I learned, it was a no-brainer for me. I called my boss, asked for the day off, booked a ticket home to Texas, and signed up.

Photo credit: Zofeea Genota
Photo credit: Zofeea Genota

So, why am I calling out of my job to work the polls? First, because I can. I am privileged to work for a company that is allowing it, and I’m blessed to be able to take a day off work without losing pay. Second, because it’s needed. In most election years, the older generation has predominantly manned the polling stations. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting elderly people, it’s important for us young, healthy folks to carry the torch. I’ve also been so inspired by my WNBA colleagues this season, standing up for their beliefs both on and off the court, and this is my way to contribute to moving that needle for change.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

I have a few wishes for this election, and they all revolve around raising your voice—and helping others do the same. First, if you’re a manager, boss, or owner and you are capable of doing so, encourage your employees to vote. Give them the day off or even staggered opportunities throughout the day to leave their posts or virtual offices to cast a ballot. I’m lucky that my bosses aligned with my vision for working the polls and voting in Houston and said, “We’re proud of you.” The election has been stressful enough—flexibility on November 3 can make it easier for everyone to participate.

Second, if you can sign up to be a poll worker, do it—for this election or any to come. This is a paid position, and the minimum age requirement is just 16 years old. You’ll need to complete a training session of roughly a few hours but it’s a small price to pay for a big, life-altering cause. (Also, if you can, consider donating your day’s compensation to causes aimed at voter accessibility.) Oh, yeah, and the deadline is this weekend, so now’s your final shot.

Third, for the rest, don’t vote alone. The decisions we make at the ballot box today will matter for years and generations to come. Everyone needs to be part of the election process. If you are not voting absentee and plan to cast your ballot in person, take your friends, family, or coworkers with you. My squad is rolling deep; I am so glad that my sisters are joining me. Rally to make voting an event. It’s a pandemic—I know you miss your best friends! Get them together—just stay 6 feet apart and wear your masks, okay?

Photo credit: Zofeea Genota
Photo credit: Zofeea Genota

On November 3, I will be working the polls at the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets play, on Election Day with my sisters. The last time I was there, I remember hanging courtside with my big sis, watching James Harden and company fight for a victory. But now, we are in the fight for our lives. Our collective votes will determine our next four years as well as who sits in the country’s most sacred seat in that historic Oval Office. Don’t wait on the sidelines during the most important game of our lives. I’ll be in Houston, cheering you all on from the Rockets’ floor, no matter where your voting booth is across the country.

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