by Sarah Feinberg, Features Contributor; Julian Phillips, Freelance Editor; Jessa Verhoef, Features Contributor & Jocelyn Wu, Features Contributor
graphic by Angus Nichols
Armed with a mask and face shield, senior Adele Fegley worked as a poll worker for the Nov. 3 general election — in which she was too young to vote — at Zervas Elementary School.
“It was something that I’m passionate about,” she said. “I wanted to be part of the process and also encourage young people to vote.”
Fegley’s involvement started earlier as a poll worker for the state primaries. State regulations allow two 16- or 17-year-old poll workers per precinct.
“I wasn’t going to be 18 this presidential election, and that really disappointed me,” she said. “I really like politics, so being involved in some way shape or form in politics was something that I was really interested in.”
Like Fegley, junior Jessica Traxler was a poll worker for both the primary and general elections. She said this was a viable alternative to volunteering for a campaign, particularly as COVID-19 kept many older workers away from the polls.
“It was really important to me to promote democracy over promoting a specific candidate,” she said. “In America we’re supposed to have this right to vote, and people can believe what they want to believe but they should be able to express it at the polls.”
Traxler said that being a poll worker made her more knowledgeable about the election process
“If you’re going to college outside of state you have to figure out so many more details, and I think being a poll worker can help you understand the inner workings of voting so when you turn 18, you can be prepared,” she said.
History teacher Julie Masi said that poll workers played a particularly crucial role in making sure voters’ voices were heard — safely — this year.
“In years past, people haven’t batted their eyelashes or thought about the role of a poll worker,” she said. “It’s much more important this year.”
Poll workers like Fegley keep the election process organized by checking off people’s addresses as well as which ballot they are given. Mail-in ballots were counted by workers to make sure that people do not vote twice.
“We make sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible, and that everybody gets the chance to vote,” she said.
With more mail-in ballots than ever, some raised concerns over the credibility of November’s election. Traxler said some jurisdictions saw rejected ballots due to limited drop-off locations and tight deadlines.
“If we don’t receive your mail-in ballot, you can always go into your polling place and vote, and I think that’s really important,” she said. “Having the correct number of poll workers there can help it just go faster so that way you don’t have to worry.”
Fegley said that this year’s tasks included sanitizing equipment and placing floor markers six feet apart to ensure social distancing.
“I’ve only volunteered during the pandemic, but I think there were a lot fewer people than there normally would be,” she said.
Traxler said that working at the polls is just one of the many ways to participate in the elections for those unable to vote.
“You can always campaign for other candidates, and you can always help people sign up to vote; there’s so many different ways to get involved,” she said. “You just have to look for it.”
Even though young citizens can’t vote, Masi said she believes they can still help to “Get out the vote”. She said being a poll worker is one of the best ways to have an active role in democracy.
“One thing that schools can do to get younger people involved in the election, even if they can’t vote yet, is seeing if they can volunteer at a poll place and making sure that they’re aware of the issues that are being hotly contested and debated,” she said. “You’re helping your country out, and you’re helping democracy function.”