Nonpartisan for a day: A note on poll workers

Posted 11/12/20

“There is plenty of work to be done to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.” — Damon Circosta, N.C. Board of Elections chairperson (during a Nov. 4 conversation with UNC’s Hussman School of …

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Nonpartisan for a day: A note on poll workers

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“There is plenty of work to be done to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.” — Damon Circosta, N.C. Board of Elections chairperson (during a Nov. 4 conversation with UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media).

On Election Day, I arose at 5 a.m., grabbed a snack and my “VOTE” necklace and walked to my neighborhood precinct to serve as a poll worker. Nervous about remembering my training, I stuck by experienced board of elections employees as we opened the building.

At the early fall trainings, county staff drilled the voter rules into us: electioneers must stay outside of the 50-foot buffer. Voter intimidation is not allowed. Voters can be asked to wear a mask, but not forced to do so. Photo identification is not required. We cautiously surveyed the room as people asked these questions, trying to guess one another’s political leanings. Poll workers are meant to stay nonpartisan, from our Election Day clothes to the questions we can and cannot answer.

I started my workday sitting next to the Republican judge (each precinct has an appointed Republican judge, Democrat judge and chief judge). She had been a poll worker for 40 years and witnessed many new changes in the voting process. She made sure to carefully wipe down the plexiglass shield and adjust her face mask, ensuring that voters had a safe and pleasant experience. The Democrat judge assisted me with translations for Spanish-speaking voters and made certain that both political party tents were staying respectful of voters’ space.

We were truly nonpartisan for the day, our top priority being that every voter who walked into the precinct received clear and appropriate information. We did our best to make voters feel welcome at the check-in table, and we met a number of first-time voters who were nervous but excited. As the first few voters trickled in, we realized that the printers were not yet connected, which delayed operations for a half hour. Luckily, the voters who left fulfilled their promise to return. The day otherwise went quickly and smoothly, even though fewer than 200 people walked through our doors (likely due to the high percentage of absentee and early voting).

My sister was a first-time voter, as well as a Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) fellow at her college campus. Many of the voters she helped register and inform were outspoken about candidates that she personally did not support. However, her team views each new registered voter as a victory, because it means they helped someone carry out his or her civic duty.

We will hear a lot of noise across the country in the coming weeks ­— calls that the election was rigged or corrupt, and questions about why the process takes so long. According to Snopes fact checkers, the president’s supporters assert that every vote must be counted — or the count must stop — depending on the state. I encourage you to learn about the actions of elections officials behind the scenes, who are ensuring that your vote counts and your voice is heard. I hope each of us continue to speak against injustice and do our part to respect one another’s human rights.

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media and can be reached at


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