Seventy-seven-year-old Larry Brown and 19-year-old Katie Tayor have at least one thing in common: they will both be serving in the upcoming election as poll workers, working to guarantee that the election process is both safe and secure. This will be the eighth year for Brown and his wife, Darlene, and the second year for Taylor.
“When I first started,” Brown said, “I would check people when they came in to be sure they were registered and then give them their ballot. But I eventually did all the jobs there, working my way up to being captain, who is the one that makes sure everything runs right.”
To be captain, Brown had to attend special training on what was and wasn’t allowed at the polling place.
“You can’t influence people on how to vote,” he said. “You have to keep your own political thoughts out. You can explain to them how the process works, but once they get into the booth, what happens there is between them and God. We’ve had some people try to do politicking in the building, but they are always ordered to leave.”
While poll workers cannot help a voter actually cast their ballot, voters can bring someone to help them with the process.
“If a person comes in and can’t read the ballot very well,” he said, “someone can read the ballot for them and help them make their mark. But we are not allowed to go into the booth with them and help.”
The captain is also part of the process that guarantees there are no problems with security.
“There is a blue box where the ballots go after being filled out,” he said. “When that box is opened up first thing in the morning on election day, it is checked by a poll worker to make sure that it is empty. We then seal it up again, and those votes are taken to the elections office at the end of the day. But there are two people in contact with that box at all times.”
According to Brown, people occasionally express concerns about security, and he works to reassure them.
“They hear stuff on the news, and they want to know what is going on,” he said. “They think it is rigged, so we walk them right through the whole system showing them how everything is locked up and monitored at all times. It is very much a controlled process from beginning to end. And they leave knowing that their vote does count.”
One of the restrictions on being a poll worker is that you cannot be related to a candidate who is running for office, which kept Taylor, who has been a poll worker since she was 16, from participating in the last election. She still went to the polls to cast a vote for her father, San Benito County Sheriff Eric Taylor, and her parents are a big part of why she takes on the job each election year.
“My dad is really involved in the community,” she said, “and my mom works at the recorder’s office, so she’s right next door to the elections office, and she also helps in the elections. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten into what’s going on in my community because as you grow into an adult, it affects you and your personal life much more.”
Taylor just completed an all-day training session two weekends ago, where attendees watched presentations on what was expected of them.
“There were lectures and videos,” she said, “and there is a ton of group work where we learn the do’s and don’ts. Then we are separated into groups so we can figure out who everybody is and what our jobs are going to be. And we do not leave until everybody is fully prepared and understands what their job entails.”
Taylor thinks that the low turnout in some of the recent elections encourages people to take an interest in the process and vote in every election.
“We need to get more people to the polls,” she said, “to ensure that everybody practices their voting privilege. And I would urge voters to do their research before they vote, to better understand what’s on the ballot so they know who they are voting for and getting exactly what they want. The important thing is that you go and vote—and understand your vote really does matter.”
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