I’m High Risk for COVID-19 — Here’s What Working the Polls Means to Me
Twice a year, I set my alarm for 5:00 AM. Twice a year, I wake up every hour or so through the night because, even in my sleep, I worry about oversleeping. Twice a year, I spend 14 to 15 hours doing my part to make sure democracy lives. Twice a year, I am the Judge of Elections at my polling place.
I have been Judge of Elections in my precinct for about ten years. It’s a job that basically means I am in charge of the room and work to solve any issues that come up during the day. I fill in for poll workers as they take breaks, and answer voters’ questions about completing their ballots and about any other concerns they may have. I keep tallies throughout the day to make sure our manual count of voters matches our machines and at the end of the day, I take the ballots and computer drives to the county offices. It is only two days a year, but all the poll workers I know take this job seriously. It isn’t something they do a couple of times each year; it is part of who they are. Elections, and democracy, matter to each poll worker. Sure, some are in it to get paid, but the pay isn’t much. Most people, including myself, are there because they believe in the power of elections and the importance of a democratic society. It might sound corny, but it’s true.
Over the years, when I’ve told people that I work during the elections, their responses have varied. Here are just a few:
- “That is a long day. I wouldn’t do it.” (It is a long day; I am glad some people do.)
- “Why?” (Because free and safe elections are essential.)
- “You really volunteer to do that?” (No. Actually, I get paid.)
- “How can I do it? Do you need special training?” (There is a training class that lasts a few hours in my county, but it is different depending on where you live. Contact the election board in your county. Poll workers are scarce – I am sure your help would be appreciated.)
This year, there were a few more questions:
- “Is it safe?” (I don’t know. The county has taken steps to make it safe, and I will do everything I can to keep myself, the other poll workers, and the voters as safe as possible.)
- “Are you scared?” (A little.)
This year, I seriously considered whether or not I should work at the election because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of being in the at-risk “over 60” demographic, I have an autoimmune disorder, which might make it more likely that I develop complications if I do contract COVID-19. I went back and forth. One day I was ready; the next day, I was sure it was not a good idea. I even considered resigning. In the end, I decided that once again, I would work the polls.
The decision process, however, made me think about why being a poll worker matters to me. Elections are inherently political, but at the same time, the poll workers, at least while they are in the room where the voting happens, are apolitical. We all have our opinions and know which candidates we want to win. But we also make sure that everyone, no matter their political leanings, can vote. When someone walks through the doors, they aren’t a Democrat, Republican, or independent. They are voters. After months of listening to (and on occasion participating in) partisan bickering, I look forward to being in a room in which party no longer enters the conversation.
As poll workers, we can’t tell you who to vote for; we can only tell you how to vote. We can’t answer questions about candidates, but we can answer questions about how to fill out a ballot or operate the scanner. If you aren’t a registered voter, we can tell you how to register so you can vote in the next election. If a voter isn’t in our books, it is my job to find out why not and determine if I can allow them to vote, they can vote provisionally, or if they should vote in a different precinct. It is my job to make sure that every person who wants to and is eligible to vote gets the chance to do so.
I am humbled and honored to be part of something so much bigger than myself. I like the idea of being involved in the voting process. Come election day, my fellow poll workers and I will be there. This year, as you vote, keep in mind the poll workers are there despite the possible risk to their health. Follow their directions; procedures are in place to keep you and them safe. Wear a mask. Maintain distance between yourself, poll workers, and other voters. And, please treat each worker with respect and kindness. Most importantly – vote.