The bright red “Vote Here” signs with arrows directing voters to the polls were difficult to see in the light rainfall before sunrise. But outside the only lit building on Cedar Shoals High School’s campus about a dozen people lined up before voting began at 7 a.m. The line grew to a steady 30 or so over the next hour, tapering off around 7:45 a.m. as the sun peeked through the clouds and people left for work or class.
Cedar Shoals High School serves as a polling location for residents on the east side of Athens. For some, this morning’s turnout reflected the diversity of the district’s voting population.
“I love this precinct because it’s so diverse,” said Michelle Pisarik, 51. “You can see the diversity of the people coming through—the age diversity, the ethnic diversity. It’s awesome.”
She has cast her ballot at Cedar Shoals for the last 12 years.
“It’s always the same,” Pisarik said. “It’s the same volunteers, and they’re great. I didn’t early vote because I know they run it very smoothly.”
The first hour of voting at the school saw an assortment of seasoned voters and first-time voters, black and white voters, male and female voters, and voters who are newly registered in Clarke County.
Many were united by the need to vote before their work days began.
Clarke County schools, including Cedar Shoals, canceled classes for students in order to host elections. But Emily Biscoglia, a teacher in Clarke County, still had a teacher work day on her schedule and a graduate class to attend in the evening.
“This was my only option to vote today,” she said.
Biscoglia had planned accordingly.
“This is where I’ve been voting for the past 10 years,” she said. “I know it always has high turnout, so I knew to get here very early.”
Like Pisarik and Biscoglia, many voters in the line have made exercising their right to vote a lifelong commitment.
“We’ve never missed voting in our lives,” said Mollie Carow, standing in line with her husband, James. Carow said the first election she voted in was the election of John F. Kennedy.
But for others, the 2018 elections were their first opportunity to participate. Osiris Walker, an 18-year-old student at Cedar Shoals High School, joined his mother, Stephanie Walker, at the polls for the first time.
“It feels good to know that my vote matters,” Osiris said.
He had registered to vote a year ago during a voter registration drive at school but was unable to attend a recent Cedar Shoals field trip to early vote at the ACC Board of Elections office because of his dual-enrollment coursework through Athens Academy and Athens Tech.
But Osiris’ mother had been teaching Osiris and his siblings about the importance of civic engagement their whole lives.
“I talk to them about the voting process every time I’m going,” Stephanie said. “So many people fought for that right for everybody… women, minorities. They marched and they picketed and they died just so that so many of us could have the right to cast a ballot. I don’t take that lightly, and I teach my children not to take it lightly either.”
Sierra Runnels is a first-year master’s student studying Health and Medical Journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.