I’ve never worked the polls during an election, but I knew this year would be different. While my peers continued to protest on the frontlines, as a new mom with a toddler, I couldn’t do the same things I used to do. NPR reported that finding poll workers under normal circumstances was already an issue and the pandemic just exasperated the problem as the majority of poll workers are over the age of 60. Currently, seniors are one of the most vulnerable and high-risk groups as they are twice as likely to develop serious complications if they contract COVID-19. With many typical poll workers either too sick to work or at high risk of getting ill, it was clear to me that as a millennial, I had to step up and work the polls, especially during an election that’s projected to have a record-breaking number of voters.
I had accepted that working the polls would involve me wearing my mask all day and carrying sanitizer in my pocket. I even told myself that I would wash my hands at least 100 times throughout the day of the elections. I was pretty confident with my abilities and was starting to look forward to Election Day, but then the first presidential debate happened.
Now, as a first-time election poll worker, I am concerned for my safety as well as other poll workers across the nation.
When President Donald Trump was hesitant about denouncing white supremacists and made the statement, “stand back and stand by” as he referenced the hate group Proud Boys, I immediately felt he was drumming up voter intimidation across the country. But then I thought about the people like me—first-time poll workers who are Black or non-white or non-cis men who will be engaging voters in such a tumultuous time in history. Will we be safe from Trumpian terrorists and racists who want to intimate and even harm voters and poll workers?
I don’t live in a swing state, but I am still worried about my safety and the safety of other Black women in other states who may or may not be in harm’s way on Nov. 3. I fear for others because I know that white supremacists have no moral compass and if history has taught me anything, it has taught me that they love to strike at locations where lots of people gather to cause harm.
I shouldn’t have to think like this, especially for an election; however, the truth is, poll workers this year will have a different experience than other poll workers have had in the past, and I don’t know what the outcome will leave us as a nation. The Black community has endured voter intimidation since slavery was abolished. Even though the laws have been put in place to protect voters and poll workers, the fear tactics have evolved over time.
In battleground states like Michigan, poll workers are preparing themselves to face voters who will be armed. As the law states you can’t obstruct or interfere with voters, a lot of voters will be relying on law enforcement to reinforce and ensure their rights are protected. Unfortunately, we’ve seen cases of police officers seemingly escorting Trump supporters.
There have been reports that more younger people across the nation are just like me in deciding to work the polls this year. We already know how much Trump hates the TikTok generation and seeing the surge in younger people taking the responsibility by working the polls must be concerning for racists and the MAGA crowd. Younger people are not just being politically active, but we are also showing the older generation that we are dependable and will continue the good fight. Even though I have valid concerns for my safety and others across this country, I feel it must be done for the better good.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, would I be interested in working the polls? I’ve asked myself this question and the answer is yes. Believe it or not, someday millennials are going to be those seniors that everyone depends on for Election Day.