In an election fraught with anti-immigrant rhetoric and threats of voter suppression, Avodah DC Corps Members Francesca Rubinson and Jordan Pollack visited Pennsylvania on Election Day to serve as voter guardians for those who might have faced intimidation at the polls.
As guardians, the pair helped to ensure that all voters had the chance to cast their ballots free from harm or voter suppression at their polling location.
In their daily full-time roles, Francesca and Jordan both provide direct service to immigrant populations through Avodah’s partner organizations, CASA de Maryland and CAIR Coalition, respectively. Francesca serves in the legal department of CASA, helping the organization’s members apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) renewals. She speaks with clients to make sure they understand their DACA status and submit the legal paperwork needed so that those who arrived in the U.S. as children can live without fear of being deported and work to help support their families. Considering the outcome of the election’s direct impact on her clients, Francesca said she felt the weight of this election on a personal level. So, when CASA urged its staff to take a training course to be a voter guardian and volunteer with its Pennsylvania office, she stepped up – and invited her housemate and fellow Avodahnik, Jordan, who does adjacent work at CAIR Coalition, to join her.
“This election felt very urgent in terms of my day-to-day work. I feel like it was important to be a witness and to be a guardian — to play a small part to make sure everyone felt safe in casting their vote and to be counted,” Francesca said.
In their voter guardian training, the Corps Members were taught to help voters be informed of their rights at the polls, practice de-escalation tactics, and poll monitoring. Having fluency in Spanish, they also had the ability to serve as translators for those who may have needed interpretation in the polling booth. On Election Day, CASA’s voter guardian program was 500 volunteers strong – providing nonpartisan voter protection in the key areas of Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Chester, and Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Handing out snacks, water, and voter materials outside of the required 10-feet barrier from the polling location, Francesca and Jordan, along with CASA staffer Carlos Hurtavo-Esteve, provided a safe place for voters to ask questions, receive assistance if needed, and act as a safeguard for those who may have faced xenophobia or been denied their right to cast their ballot.
“My favorite conversation I had was with a young woman who was a first-time voter. She had a lot of questions about whether she needed an ID and where she needed to go and was clearly a little excited and nervous to vote for the first time so it was great to talk to her,” Francesca said.
While it was a relatively quiet day at her polling location without any incidents, she said she was grateful to be able to be a set of eyes and ears on the ground to provide support for immigrant populations at the polls.
In the days following the election, Francesca said she and her housemates watched the Pennsylvania race very closely. “I felt a more personal connection having been there on Election Day.”
When the winner was finally called, she said the excitement in the bayit and all around DC was palpable. “I was on a bike ride with another Corps Member and we got the call when we were in Virginia, across the river from the Washington Monument. We could see it reflected in the water and it felt very surreal. As we biked back to the city we could see the celebrations on the National Mall.” Soon after, she and her housemates joined the cheers in the streets of DC (while wearing masks and keeping space for social distancing). Once home at the bayit, the Corps Members cracked open a craft beer that they purchased in Pennsylvania, which they decided to open only after the state had been called, as not to risk any premature celebrations.
“All of us in my DC bayit – we’re all essential workers who are impacted by housing policy, by immigration policy, by all kinds of laws that are made by Congress but can be very affected by executive orders too – so I think engaging in this social justice work in a city like DC, there are just so many connections to the work we’re doing every day and to the political scene,” she said.
With the election results, Francesca said she hopes to be able to work with more CASA members and help bring DACA protection status to many more people during her Avodah year.
To learn more about CASA and its advocacy work, visit https://wearecasa.org/.