The polls are open!

Master Sgt. Linda Welz  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Master Sgt. Linda Welz (U.S. Air Force photo)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- I can hardly get the words out. Every Election Day morning, I must step outside my precinct at 7 a.m. sharp and shout, "The polls are open!" It chokes me up every time.

Maybe it's my upbringing; watching my parents and grandparents stand as Old Glory passed by at parades. It could be the more than 20 years I've served in the military, or, it's just the fact that I have the right to cast a vote for officials and propositions in the first place.

My service in the Air Force Reserve--along with the millions who are serving now and in the past--is just a small part of the defense of this nation which protects our right to take part in the democratic process.

In addition to serving in the military, I serve my country as a voting inspector in a local precinct and this November 2 was no exception.

The precinct I manage is small. In the past several elections, we averaged 50 voters. I expected the day to be long with lots of time to catch up with my fellow precinct workers about what had gone on in their lives since the last election. But this election was different.

Right away, I felt the energy in the air. Even before the polls opened, there were voters waiting outside in the cold. As the day continued, my precinct officers and I were surprised at how busy we were. The 13 hours the polls were open seemed to fly by as we processed a steady stream of citizens, giving them a coveted I voted or Yo voté sticker after they cast their ballots.

I felt proud to serve during this election because there was so much diversity. The  precinct officers and I met first time voters who we were eager to learn how the voting process worked. We met single parents who voted with their children in tow, some old enough to begin learning the process first hand. We met parents bringing their first-time voting age offspring in to cast their votes as a family.

We met vote-by-mail voters who came to drop off their ballots or surrender them so they could vote at the polls. We met long-time voters who said they refused to vote by mail because coming to the polls made them feel more connected with the process.

We met a woman who was thankful for a reminder call from a poll watcher who told her where her polling place was and encouraged her to go vote. We even met a few people who hadn't registered to vote in time for this election but wanted to make sure they could participate in the next one.

America is a great country that provides this democratic process to its citizens. After a long, fulfilling day, I stepped outside at 8 p.m. and shouted, "The polls are closed," which is much easier for me than opening the polls.

By the end of our day, nearly 250 ballots been cast at our little precinct and more than 90 vote-by-mail voters had dropped off their ballots.

I thought back to the morning, when I opened the polls, and knew it had been a good day. I'm not sure why we had a five hundred percent increase in voting this election, but the precinct officers and I shared the voters' enthusiasm and we were excited to see so many Americans at the polling places.

It was a refreshing change and it's proof that the democratic process works.

Even though I wasn't serving in my military uniform on Election Day, I was just as proud to have served in this other way. I encourage you to register and vote in the next election. It's your right. It's why I serve.