While the 2020 election cycle has been anything but calm and predictable, many local residents found joy in service this Election Day through volunteering at their local polling location.
Poll workers, who are responsible for managing polling places and assisting voters, were feared to be in short supply a few months ago due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the fact that historically, most poll workers are over the age of 60 and therefore at higher risk. To the relief of elections officials across the country, young people answered the call to serve on the front lines.
Marietta resident and local business owner Michael Bond was one of many first-time poll workers who volunteered at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Harmar. He described Tuesday as a long day, but a rewarding one.
“I get anxious about elections, and actually doing the real work involved rather than refreshing the news was a good choice,” he said. “Understanding how things actually work and having my hands in the process makes me feel more secure that they’ll work correctly. Forcing myself to spend all of Election Day in a room where it was literally illegal to discuss politics was a good choice.”
There was a clear hierarchy of experience and it was great to work with everyone.Andy Hall, Poll Worker
Bond said their location was well-prepared with more than enough workers at the ready, although the huge rush of voters never came. At the end of the day, he said the experience left him with more faith in our democracy. “Ohio voting is archaic, confusing, and constantly under construction, but it works,” he said. “I don’t think anyone could work a day in the polls and think that there’s fraud going on – every step, from registration to counting, is checked and double-checked.”
Andy Hall, another first-time poll worker who volunteered at the Knights of Columbus Hall, described the day as beginning with careful reverence, everyone silently trying to maximize efforts to open on time by multitasking the many set-up duties, and the solemn swearing-in.
“Eighteen of us showed up to work the Knights of Columbus Hall,” said Hall. “As the day went on, we became a slick machine – all helping one another through the tricky problems. There was a clear hierarchy of experience and it was great to work with everyone.”
Hall volunteered after hearing Bond mention signing up, and was glad he did. “It was actually a reminder that in person, the two parties get along great, all of our existential splits seem to be in the abstract,” he said. “As the day went on, we could understand all of the roles (and would constantly switch the roles up) so we could lighten up and joke around. The day is so long that we would have bursts of energy, bursts of loopiness, lazy moments, and repeat.” Hall said he left at 8:00 pm and was in bed by 9:30 pm, totally wiped out.
The new technology could have been intimidating, we all worked to make it a positive experience.Pam Sullivan, Poll Worker
Pam Sullivan worked the polls with Hall and Bond on Tuesday. “The atmosphere was energetic from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Even when we had lulls between voters, we would talk and share, stretch, and even dance a little.”
While Sullivan had worked the polls once before, she said her first experience had been difficult. Now, she’s looking forward to the next time she can serve again. “The experience of November 3rd was so positive, I can’t wait to do it again.”
As Washington County now uses electronic voting machines, the experience was a new one for many voters. “The technology keeps changing to make things easier for the entire process and this can lead to older people getting disgruntled with changes,” said Hall. “Young people were impressed with how fast and easy it is, older people that aren’t used to iPads or smartphone haptics, not so much.”
Sullivan said at one point, she and a small group of others shared that they felt like they had truly helped their friends and neighbors navigate the updated process. “The new technology could have been intimidating, we all worked to make it a positive experience,” she said. “We received many thank you’s throughout the day.” She and her fellow poll workers also thanks residents for voting and applauded first-time voters, whose ages varied from 18 to over 70.
Washington County Board of Elections does a great job, and with early voting, they’ve been doing a great job helping people vote for months now, not just on Tuesday.Michael Bond, Poll Worker
“The experience gives me faith that my community wants to fix what they feel is wrong in our world. I felt that each person that I worked with was vigilant to protect the intent of every person that cast a vote,” said Sullivan. “I seriously can’t wait to do it again.”
For Bond, the experience was also a bit humbling. “It’s hard to watch people vote all day without wondering who they vote for, and being reminded that I can’t guess people’s votes by looking at their clothes or skin color is a good reminder of how things are supposed to work,” he said.
“Even more so, working in a room that’s split 50/50, with everyone in it guaranteed to care deeply about politics, and having everyone not just get along for 14 hours but even enjoy it a bit? That’s quite an accomplishment,” said Bond. “Washington County Board of Elections does a great job, and with early voting, they’ve been doing a great job helping people vote for months now, not just on Tuesday.”
I have more faith in our democracy after serving because I saw firsthand what being an American is all about.Joy Farley, Poll Worker
Joy Farley, another first-time poll worker, shared similar reflections. “No matter which party you represent, you can still respect one another’s beliefs and opinions. So many of us came as strangers and left as friends.”
Farley said she loved the experience of volunteering, meeting new people, and being involved on Election Day. “My experience was nothing short of amazing from the time I got there to the time I left.” Like Sullivan, she’s already looking forward to volunteering again. “I have more faith in our democracy after serving because I saw firsthand what being an American is all about.”
Thankfully, volunteers looking forward to their next opportunity to serve need not wait too long. Presidential elections may only take place every four years, but citizens have an opportunity to exercise their privilege to vote every year.
Sullivan, who works in local government, remarked that primary elections are often lowly attended. “I would like people to understand that in 2020, one of our local elections was decided at the primary level. Primaries are so important. Please – when the next primary election rolls around, don’t sit back, participate. All elections are important.”