“Kingfield on Election Day. It feels like a holiday,” Sally Franson said.”It’s so jolly!” Franson was volunteering with her friend Erin White at the November 8 polling party at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, organized by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association.
Kingfield’s polling party has been going on for 11 years at the park. U.S. Census lines have all of Kingfield, and only Kingfield, voting at MLK Park’s recreation center, which made for an obvious location for the neighborhood to celebrate voting.
The purpose of the party?
“To connect with neighbors,” Kingfield Neighborhood Association President Sarah Linnes-Robinson said.
“To bump into your neighbors,” KNA Board Director Scott Mueller said.
In 2012, Mueller helped organize the neighborhood organization’s first polling party at MLK Park. The City of Minneapolis said the party had to be held outside and at least 100 feet away from the entrance to the recreation center. According to Mueller, people he talked with at the City advised him not to organize a party.
“We were fine,” Mueller said. “The election judges came out to get our coffee because it was better,” Mueller said as he recounted the first year.
What started as a party with one location is now a three-tent and table operation. Two tents are positioned on the north and south end of MLK Park along Nicollet and another tent and table sit behind the building next to a small parking lot.
Mueller said he usually posts on social media the day after these polling parties telling residents “it’s your fault we have three tents,” referencing the outpouring of support by residents.
“I almost forgot to vote, it’s so much fun out here,” Mueller said.
Each polling party table is filled with carafes of green tea, coffee (donated by Kingfield businesses Butter Bakery Cafe and Royal Grounds) and piles of treats. Some of the treats were donated by Butter Bakery Cafe, but neighbors regularly drop off homemade treats.
“Treats baked by neighbors,” Mueller said, making it sound like a special brand of goodies.
Some of the Treats Baked by Neighbors came from Kingfield resident John Kerns, who stopped his vehicle next to one of the tables and dropped off firewood and freshly baked gluten-free pumpkin bread.
Mueller credits the polling parties and neighborhood yard signs and flyering for a noticeable uptick in voter turn out. According to Mueller, Kingfield saw a 20 percent uptick in turnout between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections.
Mueller also came up with the idea of being a crossing guard at the polling parties, inspired by the walking bus concept. Mueller and volunteers take turns being the crossing guard at 41st Street as voters cross Nicollet Ave. When Whitney, another volunteer, arrived she took in directions and advice from Mueller about how to best navigate the volunteer duties. Crossing guards all wore hi-visibility vests and held a stop sign directed at vehicle traffic.
“It’s fun to make fast cars stop,” Mueller said a few times. Mueller was at the park by 6 a.m. and is planning on staying until polls close.
Dozens and dozens of volunteers rotate in and out through the polling party. And everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there, despite the damp coldness and looming rain showers.
“I love democracy,” volunteer Tammy O. shared as she handed out treats to voters as they walked by the tent. Tammy’s dad was an election judge and Tammy herself has been an election judge in the past. This year she is volunteering at the party.
Tammy finds joy in her work as an election judge. She recounted a story of helping a person vote whose address was at a local church. “I’m a fixer,” Tammy said. Babs, another volunteer added that the election judges she knows say they “love that they’re part of the process.”