Be a poll worker, and be an essential worker for our democracy
By Melinda Burrell and Whitney Babash
In a school gym with a dozen others, some still groggy at 5 am, Whitney raised her right hand and repeated after the Chief Election Officer, “I do solemnly swear that I will perform the duties for this election according to law and the best of my ability, and that I will studiously endeavor to prevent fraud, deceit, and abuse in conducting this election.”
Whitney has been a poll worker several times in recent years. She reflects, “It’s fun to help people vote and it’s particularly exciting when you realize you’re verifying the identity of a first-time voter.” But she notes that seriousness goes with the fun. “It was eye-opening and reassuring — seeing for myself the accountability and number of controls to maintain the integrity of the election process.” Many jurisdictions provide mandatory training on issues such as the appropriate types of identification; how polling machines work; how to open and close a polling place.
Poll workers such as Whitney are essential to the smooth running of our elections. They check voters in and explain how to cast ballots correctly. They answer questions and manage lines of voters. In some jurisdictions, they are involved in helping to count ballots.
Poll workers perform their positions in non-partisan fashion, committed to the process of making sure all voters get to cast their votes correctly. This is a crucial point. A poll worker’s clear duty is to leave any biases at the door and to be on the side of fair process – assisting all eligible voters who wish to cast their vote to do so accurately and without interference. Despite their obvious interest in the political process, in many jurisdictions, election officers may not wear clothing that supports a particular candidate or issue, nor may they engage in political discussions while at the polling place.
As Whitney noted:
“I appreciated the controls in place to account for every ballot, and that there were buddy systems for each step. Two officers complete each task and verify each other’s work, such as opening and counting a package of ballots and closing down the machines at the end of the day.”
She described further controls:
“Throughout the day, officers tally the number of ballots issued and record the number of ballots a machine has received. The polling location chief compares all the numbers against each other to be sure there are no extra or missing ballots. Election officers sign and counter sign all of the forms certifying the counts.”
Volunteer poll workers such as Whitney are needed to support election officers. Without enough poll workers, polling stations have to be closed. Voters then must travel further and wait in longer lines.
This is where you come in. To ensure an adequate number of in-person polling stations on election day, you can sign up to be a poll worker. Each county has different ways for doing this. Power the Polls is a nonpartisan group that connects interested volunteers with their local election administrator to learn that county’s sign-up process.
Try it! Become an essential worker for our democracy!
Melinda Burrell, PhD, @MelindaCBurrell, syndicated by PeaceVoice, was a humanitarian aid worker and now trains on the neuroscience of communication and conflict. She is on the board of the National Association for Community Mediation, which offers resources on cross-divide engagement. Whitney Babash is a lifelong voter and resident of Fairfax County.