For Americans casting their ballots, election workers ask to see a form of identification and then give instructions on how to work voting machines. They’re meant to serve as a point of guidance in the process – but since the 2020 election, which some claim was stolen despite there being no evidence, election workers have been under a national spotlight.
Celia Hughes, 71, runs a nonprofit in Austin. She became a Travis County poll worker last year and has memorized the daily routine.
“You have to set up all of the machines that people interact with to register and to get their ballot, and you have to set up all of the machines where they actually put their ballot in and mark their ballot,” Hughes said. “And then you have to set up the bin where you put your ballot, and that’s where your ballot is actually cast, so people don’t realize it’s a three-step process.”
Hughes’ upbringing drove her to work the polls.
“I had been raised up in a family in a small town in upstate New York where my father always drove people to the polls. He spent his day on Election Day going out and making sure that older adults and people who didn’t have transportation were able to get to the polls,” Hughes said. “I was raised with that sort of civic duty and civic obligation.”
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For 70-year-old retired attorney Wayne Kewley, working the polls had been on his mind for a while, but with the COVID pandemic’s newness and scarce information, Kewley was hesitant. Getting sick himself was the last push he needed to submit his Travis County poll worker application.
“If it hadn’t been for me getting COVID in mid-September, I would not have worked the fall election of 2020,” Kewley said. “At that point, I knew I had natural immunity, and so on the very last day to apply for early voting in the fall, I submitted my application to Travis County to work early voting.”
Kewley said it ended up being a great decision.
“A young man appeared before me, and as I gave him the ballot, he says: ‘This is my first election. Today is my 18th birthday,’” Kewley said. “That definitely makes one’s day, and it also gives you a sense of hope, because there are a lot of things happening in the United States that can make one feel rather despondent about the state of our democracy.”
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Situations like these have also inspired 57-year-old Travis County election judge Pam Bixby. Bixby has a job with an injury trauma research organization and is also a volunteer with the League of Women Voters.
“Starting in high school, you know, students are turning 18. We want them to be engaged from the very beginning, the minute that they can become a voter, and so we go into high schools and we encourage students who are becoming 18 to get informed and and be part of the process,” Bixby said. “You’re about to come into your power, and you need to grasp it and run with it.”
Bixby, Kewley and Hughes said they haven’t had any problems with the poll watchers sent by political parties to keep an eye on the process. They also haven’t seen problems when it comes to the security of voting.
“We are flooded with information, good and bad. Sometimes it’s very hard to sort out the credible from the un-credible,” Bixby said. “If people who are concerned about election fraud would, you know, offer to serve as election workers, then they would see.”
To be an election worker in Texas, applicants must be at least 18 years old and registered to vote in the county they’re applying for. Workers must also complete required training. There’s also a push to get young people involved in the process: High school students who are at least 16 but under 18 can apply under the Texas Secretary of State’s Student Election Clerk program.