Do me a favor and be kind to Alan Buck on Tuesday.
Buck’s a 63-year-old retiree. He’ll be starting his day as a poll worker in the town of Mohawk at 4:45 a.m., and his shift likely won’t end until after 10 p.m. After a nearly-three-decade career in the town’s Highway Department, Buck became a poll worker in 2014, partly to stay involved, but also as a way to appease his wife, who wants him to stay busy. At home, Buck says with a laugh, his wife has a honey-do list way longer than the line at even the most crowded polling place.
But on Tuesday, he’ll set everything aside to ensure that the ballot casting runs smoothly at his Montgomery County polling station.
No one should have to specifically ask that you treat Buck and New York state’s roughly 80,000 poll workers with kindness on Election Day. (In part, this is a selfish request because my dad, a 70-year-old State Ed and NYSUT retiree, will be working the polls in Columbia County.) But it seems, at least in some places in this country, election workers serving on the front lines of our democracy have been taking on heavy ire. Let’s take greater care to treat them well.
In just some of the latest alleged mistreatment of poll workers, Reuters reported over the weekend that election workers in Arizona’s Maricopa County – a closely contested county that received intense focus during the 2020 presidential election – have already faced more than 100 violent threats leading up to Election Day. Most of those threats, including death threats and threats to circulate poll workers’ personal information, have been based on election conspiracies promoted by former President Donald Trump and his allies, Reuters reported.
“Since the 2020 election, Reuters has documented more than 1,000 intimidating messages to election officials across the country, including more than 120 that could warrant prosecution, according to legal experts,” Reuters reported.
Thankfully, in upstate New York, hostility toward poll workers doesn’t seem to be rampant. Election commissioners in Schenectady County said they may see two or three incidents of unruly behavior out of the anticipated 70,000 voters.
In Montgomery County, Republican Commissioner Terrance Smith expects people to behave properly, and in Fulton County, Republican Commissioner Lee Hollenbeck doesn’t expect any more animosity this year than in past years – and, in the past, incidents have been very isolated, he said.
Still, I’m issuing this call for civility as a preventive measure. After all, my colleague Jason Subik reported last week that commissioners in Fulton and Montgomery counties have been dealing with calls questioning the accuracy of the Dominion Voting Systems machines. Despite no evidence of fraud, misinformation has spread doubting the veracity of the results coming from the machines.
Only about half of Americans have high confidence that votes in the upcoming midterm elections will be counted accurately, according to an October poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The study found 68% of Republicans don’t think democracy is working well, while 40% of Democrats feel that way.
Unfortunately, these doubts have the potential to manifest in deeply troubling ways at polling places. Let’s not let it happen.
I’d implore everyone to think about who election workers actually are. Historically, 55% of all New York’s poll workers are over the age of 60. These temporary workers are there to welcome you and to guide you through the process. They prepare polling places for voting by setting up equipment, and they close polling stations and canvass and report the results.
At all stages of the process, Democratic staff work in tandem with Republicans, board of elections leaders note. Commissioners in Schenectady County said they highlight this bipartisanship whenever voters express concern.
“Registration is bipartisan, issuing absentee ballots is bipartisan, review of absentee ballots is bipartisan, issuing ballots at the poll site is bipartisan, the reviewing of signatures – everything is bipartisan” said Democratic Commissioner Amy Hild. (Perhaps to prove the point, she only took my call when Republican Commissioner Darlene Harris could also be on the phone.)
Poll workers are your friends and neighbors. They are members of your church, teachers in your school district. They may even be members of your family. They are people who are committed to carrying out free and fair elections.
Poll workers are Alan Buck in Montgomery County. He said one of his most memorable moments during an election came when a voter made an error and hastily ripped a ballot into tiny shreds. Because there has to be a record of every ballot, Buck and fellow election workers had to fish all of the bits of paper out of the trash and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
That’s just what poll workers do – they make sure our voting system remains intact.
Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.