By Dr. Lori Kumler,
Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies
Walking into the poll worker training in the week prior to the election, I expected to be trained for the 2021 election cycle but not to work on Election Day. But given the COVID-19 context, I was soon asked to work an election day polling location for two county precincts. The experience proved to be the highlight of fall 2020 for me. From the training, to the materials pick up, to pre-election setup, to the election itself, I have been awed by the feat of the democratic process.
The thoughtful logistics that went into the training were impressive. In addition to two trainers, each affiliated with different parties (one Republican, one Democrat), we had tables (distanced) with electronic tablets to practice checking in voters, full voting machines to practice setup, takedown, and troubleshooting, and printed guides for each one of us. Initial training covered much of the 100-page guidebook, page by page. The next day’s training continued where we left off and covered the remaining pages. By the end of the two-day training, my brain was filled with procedures and solutions for many foreseeable issues.
Beyond training poll workers, a significant amount of “stuff” needed to be transported and set up at each county polling location (somewhere around 115 locations in all). For nearly three hours the weekend prior to the election, volunteers and Board of Election employees patiently loaded a steady, three-lane stream of cars with supplies and equipment. The Monday before Election Day, poll workers fanned out to their poll locations across the county to unload and set up much of that equipment plus heavier equipment brought in from the Board of Elections. Two willing poll workers and I devoted nearly two hours to pre-election setup that Monday; we would also have about one hour to finish setting up with all nine poll workers on election morning prior to opening at 6:30 a.m.
My election day started at 4:20 a.m. The morning proved to be a whirlwind of activity: setting up machines, running reports, finding all the sanitizer and PPE. A steady line of voters entered for the first 50 minutes of opening before things slowed down to a continuous trickle. Our team of nine was amazing. With ages ranging from high school to septuagenarians, we represented Democrat, Republican, and non-affiliated voters. With one exception (thank God for Ed!), we were all new to this. With no exceptions, we were all eager to assist voters in casting their vote during this election year defined by a global pandemic. Our day wrapped up just before 9 p.m., when two of us—a Republican and Democrat together in one car—transported the final equipment and ballots to the Board of Elections.
While the data are not yet available on the Secretary of State website, the voter rolls for our two precincts indicated that well over half of precinct voters cast votes prior to Tuesday; by the end of the day, the percentage was well over 80% and perhaps as high as 90%. (Great job voters of Stark County!)
In the following days, we have congratulated each other via email on a job well done. I’ve reflected considerably on that day. My experience represented the America and the Ohio that I know and love: strangers of different viewpoints and perspectives working together to make democracy happen. I will hold it close to me as a reminder of who we are and who we can be.
My poll working experience meshes perfectly with my day job, part of which includes working with Abby Schroeder of the University of Mount Union’s Regula Center to help students become responsible citizens. Our work this fall has largely focused on helping students to register and to vote, and more importantly, enabling students to help their peers to register and vote. Despite COVID-19 and hybrid online courses, our students have stepped up to host online debate watch events, to stand for hours and answer registration questions, and to come up with creative ways to get others to join the conversation through writing, film events, and civic engagement competitions among Ohio Athletic Conference schools. Our students have different perspectives and different backgrounds, and much like my poll working experience, it has left me feeling confident in our democracy and our future.