I was a poll worker in Pennsylvania – a crucial battleground


People vote at a polling place on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Sophia Maltese, Editor-in-Chief

Election Day was chaos. Election Day was worse than I expected. 

On Nov. 3, I was a poll worker in a rural county in Pennsylvania. Not only was I a newbie at the job, but it was my first time voting in a presidential election too. 

To address the obvious question, with five of us bopping around a 20×20-foot room, there was no opportunity for anyone to tamper with the votes or the machine; we would have seen it. And after the votes left our precinct, they were delivered in a zip-tied bag to a counting center where dozens of volunteers checked and rechecked our counting.

Oh, and I should mention that we used paper ballots.

These ballots were inserted into a scanner, which created two digital copies that are stored on separate flash drives before depositing the ballots into a bin that required a key to access.

Copies of the names of voters and their voting number were sent home with the Judge of Elections and Minority Clerk. Both keep the information for an entire year before they are allowed to dispose of it.

So, that makes six separate records of voter information. We have the paper ballot, the two flash drives, the two copies of voter name and number and the binder of voter signatures.

The chaos I am referring to was with the poll workers.

In the week before the election, I was contacted by the PA Board of Elections but missed the call. When I tried to call back, I was sent to voicemail twice. I finally got a call back, but it was from a calling center that the board hired to manage the influx of volunteers who had questions or concerns. The catch was that the calling center couldn’t reach the board either. So nobody had answers. 

At first I wasn’t placed anywhere and then, apparently, I was supposed to be at two locations. I picked the closer one.

When I got there, no one was expecting me. I walked past a line about 40 people long before I was welcomed in with an exasperated, “Thank God!” For the next 12 hours, I performed the riveting work of cleaning pens, sanitizing tables and passing out stickers. We each got a one-hour break.

Despite the long hours and confusion, the excitement was palpable. Some voters came in donning red Trump hats, almost yelling the famous slogan “Make America Great Again.” Others wore subtle Biden-Harris pins, smiling when they placed their “I Voted” sticker just beside it.

Everyone was nervously optimistic.

The poll workers, on the other hand, kicked off the day with a sense of weary contentment but became irritable as everybody’s ideologies were slowly revealed.

One worker, a vocal Trump supporter, stormed out after a vocal Biden and Sanders fan said that filling out a form didn’t matter.

I was lurking in the corner and trying to pretend I wasn’t listening, but the worker still flung her chair out and barked at me, “I’m done! You take over.” I looked to another worker for direction. She adjusted the bandana that had fallen from her nose and shrugged.

I’m not going to lie; I grimaced.

After about five minutes of writing and then re-writing because I messed up, I got the hang of the forms. By the time she came back, I was welcoming voters with a mask-covered-smile. In the middle of the rush of voters and IDs and spoiled mail-in ballots, I had a profound sense of respect for the system. The coordinated effort of Election Day was so overwhelmingly impressive. Somehow, we managed to get people to work the polls, provide books, machines, stickers, pens, ballots and cleaner. Then we got people to count the ballots through the night, and states would begin reporting within just a few hours.

In the last minutes of the night, one of the workers played “The Final Countdown” in case any voters ran in before we closed the doors at 8 p.m. There was finally a sense of peace. It was over. The election was done.

Yet here we are. Arizona is too close to call depending on which news station you watch. Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Working the polls was brutal and rewarding. But the work isn’t done yet.