Poll workers help voters with their ballots, as well as direct them to voting booths and other resources at their polling location. They typically work during the entire election process, leaving after all the votes have been submitted for the day.
Many poll workers from Central and Southeast Ohio said they had their first experience working the polls during the 2020 presidential election. Due to a poll worker shortage throughout the United States, one poll worker, Haley Janoski, was inspired to sign up to be one.
“It was the pandemic, and there was a poll worker shortage at that time because typically it's older people, about 65, who work the polls,” Janoski said. “Because of COVID, a lot of them were staying home to stay safe, so we had a big shortage in Columbus. That's what made me become a poll worker. Plus, it was just such a huge election, and I wanted to be part of something exciting.”
Janoski said she was paid between $150 and $200 to be a poll worker, for both training and Election Day. Money did not play a role in her decision to become a poll worker; she said she realized the most important factor for her was the excitement she got from seeing people go out and vote.
“You see people talk a lot about politics and involvement online, and it's good to see those people in person put that into action when they come vote,” Janoski said. “I think, at least in the United States, it's easy to get discouraged right now with politics and civic engagement, but there are still a lot of people who care and they show up.”
Shelley Horvath, a poll worker for Athens County, also worked the polls for the first time during the 2020 presidential election, feeling the need to do her part in the election process. For someone who has consistently voted, Horvath said it was an easy decision to become a poll worker.
Finding the poll working experience powerful, Horvath said she loved getting to see all different kinds of people come to the polls. One of her most memorable experiences has been seeing voters bring their children and encouraging them to vote from a young age.
“I just think that you see people from all walks of life and people you don't know, but everybody's coming in that day that they feel like it's important,” Horvath said. “Seeing the people in your county make a point to come and do that. It's something that I enjoy seeing that happen.”
Janoski has also made new connections while working the polls. In Ohio’s last election in August, she said collaborating with other age groups made her experience worthwhile. Janoski still keeps in touch with some of the friends she made through the two elections she has worked, proving the lasting impact that working the polls can have on those who sign up to do it.
Another poll worker in Athens County, Jim Pilgrim, said his time as a veteran inspired him to work the polls before the 2020 midterm elections. Through joining Vet The Vote, a national campaign that recruits veterans and military family members to become poll workers, he met many people working with provisional voters, witnessing the emotional side of the election process.
“A younger woman had to vote provisional,” Pilgrim said. “She was in tears because she said, ‘This is so important,’ and I felt that she really wanted to cast her vote. We could say, ‘It’s no problem. We're going to cast your vote and then you have this amount of time to go down to the Board of Elections and take care of this.’ Then she calmed down, she knew it was okay.”
Janoski and Horvath find the poll working experience crucial to the election process because, without them, an election could not run smoothly for voters.
“If we don't have any poll workers, some poll locations could close,” Janoski said. “We saw a little bit of that back in 2020 when it was just extremely low, and then that makes it harder for people to access voting because if you have to go further, and it's not in your community directly, you can't go.”
Horvath encourages people to sign up to be poll workers because of how easy it is. While she has had to work long hours, the result of the voting process has mattered most to her. She also praised the Athens Board of Elections for the training it provided, which significantly impacted her experience.
“I would just really encourage people to become poll workers,” Horvath said. “It's just a couple of days out of the year. It's a long day, you have to be in the polling place and ready to go. You have to be in at 5:30 in the morning. Then you put everything together, make sure it's all ready to go so you can open the polls at the right time.”
Pilgrim also said poll workers serve as advocates for voters, making the opportunity to be one a meaningful and important experience.
“Every vote needs to be counted,” Pilgrim said. “People need the opportunity to cast their vote and feel like they're safe and they're listened to, and that the poll workers are the advocates. We're not trying to prevent someone from voting. We want to facilitate that as quickly and simply as possible, while still making sure that this person is a registered voter.
This election season, many are encouraged to recognize the role poll workers play or even sign up to be one. After the stories from Janoski, Horvath and Pilgrim, it is clear the job is not one to be taken for granted in Ohio.