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Richmond, young and old, comes together at one polling station

on November 11, 2014

In the dark morning hours of Nov. 4, Enrique Suarez del Solar quietly seals the envelope of his wife’s birthday card and places her present on the table. It’s her 80th birthday and del Solar makes sure to leave a little something for her.

It’s Election Day, and del Solar heads out to volunteer at the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church as a poll worker. Del Solar came to the United States from Argentina in 1957 and, two years later, became a U.S. citizen.

For the past five years, del Solar has volunteered to help his community with their civic duty.

“Well, I retired, and I decided that it was time to do something for other people and the community,” del Solar said. “It is always take, take, take and sometimes give, give, give.”

On Election Day, Richmond voted in Tom Butt as mayor, along with three Richmond Progressive Alliance members — Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez — as city councilmembers. The day was a culmination of months of campaigning, with millions of dollars circulating through the process and national media taking notice. But at the polling station at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, the political process is about the civic interactions of a few people, building relationships and making their voices heard.

Del Solar says that upon arriving at the polls, many voters who had been voting at Bethlehem Church for years, discovered their polling location had been changed. Thus, many voters decided to submit provisional ballots instead of driving to their new polling station.

With over 44,000 registered voters, only about 16,500 would make it to the polls on Election Day.

At the church, del Solar meets with two other volunteers, Luis Nuñez and Maude DeVictor.

A senior at John F. Kennedy High, Nuñez and some classmates got the opportunity to work at the polls for service learning, a requirement for graduation.

Nuñez received the opportunity to travel to Bolivia through Outbound Bound, an outdoor education program, where he worked in a mechanics shop. Nuñez says that the skills permit him to solve problems and use his hands, a trait he attributes as his “thing.”

“I’m pretty much enjoying it,” the cheerful 17-year-old says. “I’m learning how to set up the polls and do some of the paperwork and talk to older people to get some knowledge and make new friends.”

This experience permits Nuñez, an aspiring mechanical engineer, to get firsthand accounts of the profession from del Solar, a retired mechanical engineer. During the quiet times, del Solar imparts some of his knowledge to a grateful Nuñez, emphasizing the importance of mathematics.

“I actually enjoyed the fact that I got to be here with a mechanical engineer,” Nuñez said. “It was pretty helpful.”

Del Solar leans over to Nuñez to begin the overall voter count, slowly combing through the names.

The third member of the team is Maude DeVictor. Dressed in a feathered red cap with a smiley-face lanyard around her neck, DeVictor is energized to help her community once more at the polling stations, especially the elderly.

“The little seniors, whenever they get to vote, they are so energetic that they’ve been able to make this one more time,” DeVictor says. “And we can kind of see the look in their eye, that ‘I might not be here for the next one, but I’m gonna vote today,’ that kind of spirit. It’s very rewarding and energizing.”

DeVictor has experience in politics. She was the whistleblower from Chicago who investigated the linkages between Vietnam veterans and their exposure to Agent Orange. After going public, DeVictor was banned from future goverment employment opportunities.

“This is like of a cathartic experience for me because you’ve been able to make your doctor’s appointment, you’ve been able to make the rent,” DeVictor says, “but this is still your parachute to ride down and they cannot take that away from you.”

Nuñez, at 17, missed his own opportunity to vote by one month. But that doesn’t stop him from participating in other ways.

“I am excited because I will be able to bring out my work and my opinion where I want to place my vote,” Nuñez says. “So yeah, I’ll be one of those who actually counts. I’m pretty excited about that.”

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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