Got to say, when I dreamed up my vision for 2020 I never thought that I would add “poll worker” as a side hustle. But then again, nothing about 2020 was predictable. There was so little that was in our control, when someone suggested poll working as a way to preserve democracy, save grandmas, and make a little extra cash during these unprecedented times, how could I not be interested? In fact, even getting out of the apartment for the day added a little thrill to the whole deal. Here’s how it happened.
Step One: Register online ahead of the election.
Around mid-August, I signed up as a poll worker for the first time. The online registration is pretty straightforward and I heard back within a couple of days that I was approved and should receive my training schedule.
Step Two: Go to the four hour training
I was notified online and by post card about where and when my training class would be held. The training took place about a month after I registered, in September. I went to the Board of Elections office in Brooklyn, but I know that others had theirs in random locations and online for COVID safety. In order to work election day you are required to attend a four hour training course where they go over the poll worker manual and show videos pertaining to how to work the machines and what to expect that day. This year the manual included COVID safety precautions that take place on site. The training was a bit haphazard since the videos weren’t working. At the end we were required to take a multiple choice quiz that was open book. I received email notice that I passed the quiz.
Step Three: Wait for your poll worker assignment
Part of the incentive to be a poll worker is there is a chance that you could earn upwards of $2,800 if you work during the 10 day early voting period prior to Election Day. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen for me, however, I was able to vote early because of this. If you are a poll worker, there is also an option for you to fill out a special ballot for poll workers on election day, also, but I was glad that my polling place was open for early voting.
The poll worker assignment came a week before Election Day. I was assigned to work my polling location near my apartment. This is fortunate that I did not have to figure out transportation to my location because we were expected to be at the location by 5am (one hour before opening). That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be assigned to a different location the next time, but for now, I’m just glad that it worked out the way it did. Because of the virus, subways are not running between 1-5am so it would have been difficult to take a bus anywhere.
Step four: Election day!
After receiving the assignment, I brushed up on my poll worker manual and re-watched the training videos available on YouTube. We were required to arrive one hour before the polls opened to set up, wearing our masks and business casual (I got away with wearing some work slacks, a thermal long sleeve shirt, and black vans). Josh and I were assigned to work at the check-in tables (though we did not work at the same table together) where voters are checked in with the e-poll book and we hand out ballots. This job’s main objective was to make sure that the number of ballots we handed out matched the number of ballots that the machine’s received at the end of the day. There’s a tally that you have to track. Because these tables are supposed to be bipartisan, my name tag actually said that I was the “R table inspector” meaning I was the “Republican” at the table. In such a Democrat heavy area such as NYC its inevitable that there are more Democrats than Republicans, so my best guess is that I was randomly assigned the “R.” I made sure to mention that I was registered as a Democrat to my table-mates just so they were aware.
The day was 5am to 10pm, with two hour long breaks during the day for lunch and dinner. Time did manage to move forward relatively quickly. Because of early voting, there wasn’t a line out the door that some had anticipated, but instead there were a steady stream of people. I found it to be a super interesting day because of all the people coming in who were first time voters, bringing in family members who had not voted in 30 years(!), or the people who tried to say they were registered in Brooklyn, but they lived in Staten Island (nice try, bro).
Step Five: Job well done (waiting for money)
Good job, poll workers, we saved democracy, there were no major violent incidents from conservatives, and we saved the grandmas! About a month after the poll working was done we received our checks in the mail. Mine was about $350 (this included being paid for training and election day itself), but of course, taxes were taken out so it was just under $300.
Our poll worker certification is good for a whole year so we might also be assigned to work the primaries in June, before we have to re-certify again in September. And we got this nifty little certification!
I’m really glad I did something out of my comfort zone. My biggest worry was that I wasn’t smart enough to handle the position, but the trainer at my training class in August put it simply: you only need two brain cells to do this job. On site help was there if you needed it, and we always had the manual with us to piece through common problems. It made me feel proud that I was an active participant in democracy. I want to encourage anyone reading this, that you, too, can be an active participant in your community. I met so many cool people. One of my table mates was a first time voter in college, and the other was a veteran poll worker. Everyone working together toward a common goal is a really amazing feeling.