Pia Kinney James | Madison, WI
So, it just put me on a path of trying to inform the public of what their rights were around voting. A few years later I started working as a poll worker. I started doing this because they were short staffed in my neighborhood polling precinct, so I thought I’d get involved to make sure that there were enough poll workers to handle the lines of people coming in to vote. I have lived in Madison all of my life and so people in the public recognize me. Many people who vote at the Badger Rock polling place are people of color and seeing me, they feel a little more at ease or a little more accepted.
The two main jobs I have done as a poll worker are to check a voter’s ID with the poll book to make sure it matches and registering people to vote. I am also a voting ambassador with the city and do voter education in my community. On election day, at my polling location, I also answer any questions a new poll worker has. All poll workers need to take training classes before each election, but if someone isn’t sure how to do something, I work with them until they are ready to work alone.
I have learned that a lot of people do not understand their voting rights. For example, people who have been incarcerated in the past and released did not know that they could vote if they are done with probation. Some people I talked to had actually been told by their probation agents that they could not vote anymore because they had been in prison. Once I explained that if you are no longer “on paper” or on probation or parole you get your voting status back, they were pleasantly surprised. I am a retired police officer and I am very aware that people who do the crime have to do the time. But I tell people once you have done your time and are “off paper,” you can vote again. Another example are kids who turn 18 just before the election. A lot of kids did not know that they could register as soon as they turn 18 before, and on the day of, the election. So that was important. And knowing the law has a ripple effect. I tell one person and then that person tells someone else.
It matters to me that everybody has a voice and feels comfortable coming in to vote. I was amazed at how many people would say, “Oh, my one little vote doesn’t count.” And I would say, “Yes, every vote counts.”
Pia’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.