In August, the American Bar Association, in collaboration with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), called on lawyers to fill the critical need for poll workers for the November election. The Poll Worker, Esq. Initiative encouraged lawyers, law students and other legal professionals to assist in upcoming elections by serving as poll workers.
Three ABA leaders answered the call and shared their experience.
This was ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross’ first time serving as a poll worker, although she had previously served as an observer for a candidate.
Enix-Ross’ job in the gymnasium of an elementary school in New Jersey started at 5 a.m. on Election Day. She quickly learned that the poll workers establish the “look and feel” of the precinct, from setting up the machines to hanging curtains for the booths to posting the American flag. “It’s all done by the workers,” she said.
The polling place opened at 6 a.m. “People would come to us, we looked up their names in the electronic book, had them to sign and then we would compare their signature; give them a ballot and then they could cast it electronically,” Enix-Ross said.
She also helped people insert ballots into the voting machines and closed the curtain to allow the privacy to vote. “We rotated jobs, so that we could be familiar with every job,” Enix-Ross said.
The day was filled with making sure voters had what they needed to cast their ballots. The records indicated that some voters had received a mail-in ballot; but if they said they didn’t receive it or use it, a provisional ballot was provided, she said, and they were advised how to opt out of receiving mail-in ballots in the future.
Enix-Ross worked alongside teachers, retirees and students until the polls closed at 8 p.m., but the closing procedures did not commence until after the last person voted. After that, they meticulously closed down the polling place. “It was a very methodical process,” she said.
T he poll workers signed sheets ensuring that ballots that had been cast came from the machines; the ballots were then placed in a pouch and the pouch was locked.
For Enix-Ross, it was “a long day but rewarding,” and she was grateful to serve “in the ward and district in my neighborhood, which meant I saw my neighbors.”
“A number of people thanked us,” she added. “They thought it was important.”
The experience left Enix-Ross empowered to speak from experience. “I am glad I did it because I think I can now speak forcefully and truthfully about the integrity of the process -- at least what we do from New Jersey.”
“It goes a long way to show people they can trust the process and their vote is going to be counted without any tampering,” she added.
John Hardin Young, a delegate to the ABA House of Delegates and of counsel at Sandler Reiff in Washington, D.C., has been involved in political matters since 1969. He said lawyers participating in the election process “ensures that Americans have the confidence they need in our electoral system, which is totally justified.”
“I don’t think there is any more an important role than having lawyers actually monitor the mechanics of how an election is run and when you see how an election is run inside you realize that we have one of the best election processes in the world, both for democracy and for the security in how we vote,” he said.
“All the myths and conspiracy theories go by the wayside immediately when you set up the machines and see the voters coming in and see how they’re registered and how we verify who they are and how their vote is translated from the voting booth to the tabulation to the final results,” Young said.
He was as a judge of elections in Delaware during the primary season and an election official for the general election.
What struck Young was “how easy voting is, how secure it is and how people who actually voted were very pleased with the process and came away feeling like they’d done their civic duty.”
“I think that is profound given all of what happened in the 2020 election,” he added. “The myth around that election; the people who voted saw that the process worked, and their vote counted.”
“All ABA members should sign up to be a poll worker,” Young said. “The only way we can give our neighbors the confidence that their vote counts is to ensure that we as lawyers are there to make sure that the voting process not only works well, which it does, but also the perception is that it works well.”
Despite “everything that is said about lawyers, lawyers in almost all of our communities are one of the most trusted individuals in our society,” he said.
Retired voting rights attorney and past chair of the Standing Committee on Election Law, Estelle Rogers was a poll watcher in Reno, Nevada, on Election Day. There were not a lot of lines at her polling place because many people took advantage of early voting, so it was “very quiet and problem free, it’s the kind of election you want,” she said.
Lawyers are a “natural fit” for partisan and nonpartisan roles at the polls, Rogers said. Because special elections can occur at various times during the year, poll workers are always needed and the need to replenish the faithful people who served prior to the pandemic is imperative.
She has also participated in “voter registration, GOTV (get out the vote) and staffed the ‘boiler room,’ where questions are called in by observers and others who need issues resolved and hope to get votes cast and counted. I have phone banked and texted. The only thing that I have not done is social media.”
Rogers said she has made participating in the voting process a “habit.”
“When you look at the multiple ways you can be a part of this process, it is always curious to me how many people don’t, especially now, when the very legitimacy of elections is constantly called into question,” she said.
Lawyers and law students interested in becoming a poll worker can go to www.canivote.org and click on the “Become a Poll Worker” tab to find out how to serve in their jurisdictions. Depending on the state or territory, tasks may range from staffing polling places to processing returned ballot envelopes. Poll worker training for lawyers may be eligible for Continuing Legal Education credit.