My Experience Working the Polls


{Credit: Getty Images}

Emma Barry '22, News Editor

The upcoming election is eliciting strong emotions in everyone. Fear. Hope. Dread. Anticipation. In my case, I just see a long workday ahead of me. That’s right, folks. I, Emma Barry, am an election worker. A woman on the front lines who will, come that fateful Tuesday, usher people in and out of the polls and help count ballots in order to UPHOLD OUR SACRED DEMOCRACY! Trust me, it’s pretty exciting. 

This summer, I got my first ever job working for the Town of Millis. I worked both Millis’ local election as well as the state primary. Being an election worker isn’t what you could call a steady job, as elections, by definition, only occur once in a while.  However, I was privileged enough to start working in a presidential election year, which means that come November third I will be a three-time poll veteran. 

‘How does being an election worker… work?’ I hear you ask. Well, I probably couldn’t have told you if you had asked me after my town election.  In order to comply with COVID guidelines, they had to hire extra hands to sanitize the voting booths as well as the banisters to the stairs leading to the floor itself (Millis holds its elections in the gymnasium at the Town Hall, which is sunk in lower than the normal level of the building in order to accommodate spectators at recreational basketball games and the like).  My second time working the polls felt a little more “civic duty-like,” as my role was to split people up into their respective precinct and usher people onto the main floor when space for them had freed up. Before both of these experiences, I was sworn in by the Town Administrator, where I was asked to raise my right hand and “Swear to carry out your duties as an election worker to the best of your ability.” As election workers, we have a duty to remain impartial and maintain our integrity.  This means regardless of our personal convictions, we must count ballots and interact with voters responsibly. Election workers are prohibited from wearing any clothing or carrying any signage that supports a specific political campaign for this same reason. 

Counting the votes was perhaps the most nerve-wracking yet tedious process I have ever been a part of. Although there are machines to automatically tally the votes, they must also be hand-counted as a fail-safe, to make sure everything lines up.  Perhaps this next piece of information may assuage fears of voter fraud and election manipulation by workers: election workers are incentivized to hand-count the ballots correctly and efficiently because we can’t leave until the machine-based electronic tallies match the manual ones.  I was at the town hall until 10:00 PM for the town election and 10:45 PM for the state primary. Talk about a long day! 

Becoming an election worker did help me feel much more involved in the government and our democracy.  It also helped me learn more about the voting process. I feel so prepared to fill out my own ballot as soon as I can legally get my hands on one to vote! I think most importantly, being an election worker has solidified my faith in people. Both times I worked at the polling place, I had no idea what people’s political beliefs were, or who they would vote for when they stepped into the booth. Even at the state primary, where there were color-coded ballots for democrats and republicans, I was nowhere near close enough to the floor to see which one people selected. Everyone I interacted with was so polite, and it was nice to put aside partisanism and just try to connect, as these people were all going to the same place with a common goal — to vote and participate in democracy. 

If you’re ever looking for a job, I would highly recommend becoming an election worker. You get firsthand experience with the way that democracy works, even if you aren’t old enough to participate directly. It also provides a chance to connect with people over the shared passion of love of country and free elections. Whatever the outcome next Tuesday, I will forever be grateful for my opportunity to be an election worker and to witness firsthand the inner workings of our government. 

Emma Barry ’22, News Editor