Wilson Towne | Sheboygan, WI
To me, being a poll worker feels like a politically neutral way of supporting democracy. A lot of people get kind of stuck in the left or right. We have to save the country this way or we have to save the country that way. I think, how about we just let the country work. Let people choose and just support the basic civic institution of voting.
One thing I have realized is that there are people who cannot deal with bureaucracy. I feel like I am sort of a guide for them. The biggest complaint I get from people is it’s just too complicated. They don’t know how to get registered. It’s pretty easy to find out so I just tell them, ‘Hey, go to this easy website, https://myvote.wi.gov/. It will tell you whether you’re registered. If you’re not, we’ll figure it out. We’ll work through it together.’ On a big election day we could have up to 30 people waiting to vote or register to vote at a single time. So it’s sort of a triage. You have to figure out how to deal with people all at once and make sure they have a positive experience. Technology can be a big help because people registering to vote can show us Proof of Residence documents using their smartphones, or other electronic devices. That way they don’t always need to leave to get the correct paperwork, which runs the risk of them not coming back in time to vote. We are here to help you make your vote count, that is the main thing.
With all the scrutiny our city clerks are under, they are doing a phenomenal job, just gracefully doing it to the best of their ability. We have had extensive training from our clerks, just working through all the possibilities. We study samples to identify what is wrong with this particular registration application and what are the minute details we need to write on the bottom of a registration form. This is important because the ultimate fear is at a recount we have to throw out hundreds of votes because someone forgot to sign the little thing on the back of a ballot that says this was issued by an election inspector.
I like being a chief inspector, being in charge, because I know I can handle it. I am levelheaded and can defuse situations. I want to follow all the rules and make sure everything’s done correctly because I don’t want anyone’s vote to be thrown out because I’m not doing my job.
A couple of years ago I had my least favorite interaction and most favorite interaction within 20 minutes of each other. I was registering someone to vote and really coaxing him through it. You need to show me proof of where you live right now, it has to be a bill or something. Then you need to show me proof that you are who you say you are, a photo ID. After we went through this process, he said, ‘Wow, that was so easy. How do you stop people who live here illegally from registering?’ All this fear of voter fraud is crazy to me. Every person, before they can vote, needs to prove that they are a resident of Wisconsin and that they are eleible to vote. And to be eligible to vote you have to be a citizen of the United States.
Then about 20 minutes later I had a young married couple bring their citizen naturalization papers in a folder. It had pictures of them with the relevant government information in front of an American flag. It was so exciting to me to register people that were new citizens and just wanted to be part of this.
Another thing I’ve been working on, in my free time, not as an election inspector, is people voting from jail. I think there are about 12,000 people in Wisconsin in jail. They are there on misdemeanor-related charges or awaiting trial in jail. Many are there because they can’t make bail. They have a constitutional right to vote but practically can’t vote. I am working with some women at the local League of Women Voters to help make this happen. I think we can make this country a better place if we just try to treat people as humans and get out of this tribalist mindset. We are all stuck on this same boat together. I may not like what you did to wind up in jail, but you still deserve to vote and have representation.
I know that I am an unusual demographic for a poll worker in my city. In my neck of the woods in Sheboygan, the average age is at least 60 plus for poll workers. If young people don’t start doing this, there is going to be a major crisis. So I’ve reached out to local high school teachers that are civics teachers asking them if they have any students who might want to be a poll worker. Part of our role is to make sure every single vote gets counted. It is such an easy way of just showing up and serving your country.
Wilson’s story was produced by Jen Rubin and 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.