Working the polls

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Mardi McCollum

Student poll worker Gaby George aids local voter throughout the voting process on election day.

By Katie McClellan, Vandegrift High School

The sun isn’t up yet, but seniors Gaby George and Mardi McCollum are. They’re scanning identification, checking registration and printing ballots. 

It’s Election Day and students across America flocked to the polls, but not just to vote. Like George and McCollum, many young poll workers have taken the place of the traditionally elderly poll workers to help them stay safe during the pandemic.

“I decided to work the polls because, unfortunately, I am unable to vote in this election because of my age and I wanted to contribute in any way possible,” George said.

George worked alongside her friend McCollum at Canyon Ridge Middle School on Nov. 3 from 6 in the morning to 7:45 that night. Prior to Election Day they were also required to attend an hour long online training session on basic information about check in and how the machines work.

“Although it was a long day, the best part of my Election Day experience was getting to clap for the first time voters,” McCollum said. “It really brought a lot of positive energy into the area and made everyone happy that kids our age were doing the right thing.”            

The pair had two main jobs at their location. The first was cleaning the voting machines after each use to meet COVID safety guidelines. The second was checking voters in, explaining the process to them, and printing their ballots to make sure their vote would be counted at the end of the night. 

“Working the polls was a lot more complicated than I expected honestly,” George said. “It is a very serious job and you have to do everything correct in order to ensure that every eligible voter’s vote is counted and submitted correctly.”

Despite all that pressure to make sure no mistakes were made, McCollum reflected that working the polls was an incredibly beneficial experience because she learned a lot of new information on how elections and vote counting works.

“The most important part of working the polls was making sure everyone turned in their ballots as they left the building to ensure that they would be counted and that the number of ballots matched the number of people checked in,” McCollum said.

According to George, the process went smoothly because there was always a staff member who knew how to handle a conflict or fix a small issue. In addition, there were multiple election supervisors who watched over the poll workers to ensure that no mistakes were made.

“There was never a conflict that we didn’t know how to resolve,” George said. “My stand out memory from the day was definitely seeing some of my friends and family at my voting location and being able to help and explain to them what to do in order for their vote to be counted.”

Both girls are now sold on working the polls for Election Day and recommend everyone should do it despite the long hours and seriousness of the work. They agreed that everyone should work an election at least once to understand how it all works.

“I think that anyone that is interested in working an election should do it, it is truly such a great learning experience,” George said. “The experience made me appreciate all the other millions of workers who worked their tails off on Election Day to ensure that every vote was counted correctly.”

This story was originally published on Vandegrift Voice on November 12, 2020.