On Nov. 6, I’ll join almost a million other Americans who have volunteered — for a minimal fee — to help man the polls. It’s an extraordinary thing when you think about it. This army bands together for a single day (or several, if you include early voting) to make sure every American can exercise one of their most fundamental rights. For all the talk of “rigged” elections, cyberthreats, voter suppression and fraud, it’s often those on the front lines who most affect your voting experience. And that responsibility has only become more complicated. After reporting about voting for NPR for 18 years, I decided that it was finally time to work at the polls. I’m usually covering the story, but this year I’m off writing a book and had the time. I started with poll worker training class. In my class of 18, all but two of us were women. We began the four-hour session getting tested on some of the rules, especially for voters with disabilities. No, a voter who wants assistance does not need a note from their doctor. Yes, voters can get help reading and even marking their ballot, as long as the helper fills out a Voter Assistance Form and is not their boss, union representative or a candidate. And doesn’t tell them how to vote.
We then learned how to set up the polling site. Almost everything — ballots, machines, pens, tape, signs, etc. — is stored in a black metal cabinet that should be waiting, locked, at the polling site on Election eve. Our boss, the chief election judge, will have the keys. There will be diagrams showing exactly where we have to put the equipment inside and the signs outside showing voters where to go and where the “No Electioneering Zone” begins (100 feet from the door).
My first reaction was, “Wow, there’s so much to remember! How will I do it all?” My second reaction was that I’d better not mess up. All these steps are needed to make sure voters can cast their ballots easily, safely and fairly on Election Day.
Do we know what to do if there’s a problem, like a malfunctioning machine or a missing address? Will we know where to send you if you’re in the wrong precinct? Can we spot voter intimidation or cheating? Will we make you feel welcome?