Heather Walder | La Crosse, WI
Another family member was hospitalized with COVID-19 at that time, which was really tough. I volunteered to work at the polls so that other peoples’ parents and grandparents wouldn’t have to do so during the pandemic.
Encountering people I know while working as an election inspector makes me feel more like a part of my neighborhood and my community. It’s so gratifying to help my friends, neighbors, and former students while working at the polls. I teach at UW-La Crosse, and there have been a few students, now graduated, who recognize me, or vice versa, as they move through the line. It’s a fun chance to catch up, even briefly, as I hand them a ballot. When I arrived to work at the polls both in April and August, it was really inspiring to see so many other young people volunteering to work at the polls, since most of the regular poll workers are older and more at risk to be severely harmed by COVID-19.
There are many poll worker roles. I handed ballots to voters and explained how to fill out the ballot properly, so that it can be tallied by the voting machine. In August, there were extra instructions about “cross-over” voting, because voters are only allowed to vote in one party’s partisan primary. I learned there is a lot that poll workers do besides simply handing out a ballot. We had to be very clear and answer questions to make sure that voters understood how to fill out the ballot. There are many safeguards in place. For example, poll workers are always organized in pairs, so two people sign off on every ballot that is handed out.
I know there is a lot of concern about voter fraud, but from my experience as a poll worker I have learned that widespread voter fraud would be very difficult or impossible to accomplish. There are many checks, cross-checks, and counts of votes in the poll books and from the machine that tallies the paper ballots. Every hour, we reconcile the number of ballots distributed with the number of ballots counted on the vote-counting machine. If it is off, even by one vote, we recount and check our numbers until we find the error. Absentee ballots are opened, counted, and cross-referenced with the voter rolls to make sure that the person has not voted in person. All voters must present a valid form of photo ID. It really frustrates me to hear mail-in or absentee voting being described as more susceptible to fraud. That is simply not the reality of the situation, and I’d encourage anyone who believes otherwise to participate in the next election as a poll worker!”
Heather’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Poll Worker series. Through this series we want to draw back the curtain on who makes our elections possible and introduce you to a few of the unsung heroes of the democratic process.
What exactly does a Poll Worker do? Poll Workers facilitate the right to vote and maintain order at the polls. They ensure that our elections are open, fair, impartial, and trusted. The Wisconsin Elections and Ethics Commission has a list of Frequently Asked Questions to describe the duties and qualifications to be a Poll Worker.
Regular people from neighborhoods around the state volunteer to be Poll Workers. If you are interested in being a Poll Worker you sign up through your municipal clerk. Here is a list and contact information for Wisconsin’s municipal clerks.