CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) – In the 2000 election, Jane Sharp stood in line in the rain for an hour at a polling location for a ballot she never got to cast.
At the time, the now-retired administrative assistant intended to cast her vote for Al Gore in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she lived at time. Not only was he the Democratic candidate, Sharp said, but she also liked his environmental policies.
But when she reached the front of the line at what she remembers was an elementary school polling location, the poll worker informed Sharp she was not on the voter rolls.
What happened next was the reason why Sharp, 18 years later, has volunteered as a poll watcher for the midterm election in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When she received an email asking for volunteers, her mind went immediately to Election Day 2000.
According to Sharp, the poll worker in North Carolina simply shrugged and said, “Sorry.”
Sharp left the polling location furious. She remembered thinking, "I've just been denied the right to vote."
She registered at the same time as her husband, who cast his ballot, and she wondered why poll workers had not stopped from moving voters along to help her out.
Sharp did not know to ask for a provisional ballot, or even if North Carolina provided provisional ballots at the time.
In the coming weeks, Sharp watched as the 2000 presidential election turned into a legal fight that reached the U.S. Supreme Court over vote recounts in Florida. Eventually, the question of whether George W. Bush or Al Gore won the Sunshine State – and thus the presidency – was decided by 537 votes.
“I can be a pretty overbearing person, so I'm told,” Sharp said. “And if it's happening to me, how many other people who are not as forthcoming and as strong-willed as I am, how many people is it happening to because they don't know?”
She added, “You have to know what your rights are or you could be subject to having them denied to you.”
On Tuesday, volunteers with the two major political parties and some nonprofit groups will roll up to polling locations across the nation to monitor the proceedings and ensure that voters who run into problems can still exercise their right to vote.
In this year’s midterm election, there has been a greater demand for poll watchers thanks to the kind of races in play.
"It's a little unique here in Tennessee,” said Michael Sullivan, executive director for the Tennessee Republican Party, “in the sense we always want to have some poll watchers out there that make sure things are going smoothly and putting 'em in key areas of the state. But at the same time, we haven't had a whole lot of ultra competitive races in the state of Tennessee for some time.”
But this year features a tight race for U.S. Senate between the Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee, and Republican Marsha Blackburn, a congresswoman in the western part of the state. The governor’s house will also be vacant because Governor Bill Haslam is finishing his second term.
Sullivan said swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina boast of reliable bases of volunteers. In Tennessee, a volunteer is usually more interested in door knocking or phone calling for the political parties.