Editorial Roundup: Alabama

Cullman Times. February 20, 2024.

Editorial: Don’t trust the process? Volunteer as a poll worker

When you think “politics” in America, words such as “dissent,” “contentious” and “fragmented” can immediately come to mind.

There’s no doubt that the 2024 election cycle is going to be a heated, controversial and polarizing one. Distrust with the election process runs rampant and a huge throng of the U.S. public has little to no faith in representative democracy anymore.

And if you just so happen to be one of those people, here’s a suggestion: Become a poll worker.

For one thing, it’s a paid position. Compensation fluctuates from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it’s generally not bad money. So if absolutely nothing else, the financial incentive is there.

More importantly, there’s a lot of vacant positions out there, especially in smaller communities. You don’t have to be an Ivy League political scientist to put two and two together; if there are high voter turnouts and inadequate staffing for polls, everybody loses.

But perhaps the single most valuable aspect of being a poll worker is that it gives you first hand knowledge of how things actually operate in an electoral system. Anybody can say anything on Facebook or YouTube, but they’re not actual elections supervisors and superintendents. If you think the whole thing is a sham, the best thing you can do is to get involved with the process firsthand and see how things operate in real time.

Rampant mistrust and disinformation regarding elections is the direct consequence of a lack of real civic engagement. Perhaps instead of sitting around on social media and accepting every unfounded conspiracy theory as fact, it might do you and your community some good if you take the initiative and provide a bona fide social service to your friends and neighbors.

If there actually are Russian interlopers or Chinese saboteurs trying to mettle in the outcomes of a school board or coroner race, well, being a poll worker puts you right on the ground floor to expose it.

But that’s probably not going to be your experience.

Instead, you’re going to see all of the hard work that takes place on the local level, often with limited resources and short-staffed personnel. You’re going to see every single step in the process, from check-in to the technological computations. Maybe you’ll be able to help out somebody who’s a little unsure or uncomfortable themselves — or encounter just how mean-spirited and coarse some people can be to perfect strangers.

No matter how things play out, if you volunteer to be a poll worker, you’re going to walk away with a lot more education about election processes — and the American political machinery itself.

Anybody can complain about hearsay and rumors, but people who take the next step and actually participate in civic functions are actually doing something to address whatever flaws or faults may or may not exist in the system. And more than anything, being a poll worker teaches you empathy — maybe not agreeing with people who share different perspectives than you do, but coming to understand why they believe what they believe and why it’s so important for them to have their voice heard just as much as your own.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a better way to dispel the disinformation and distrust surrounding election processes than to see what really happens with your own eyes.

In that, being a poll worker isn’t just a benefit to your community at large. It’s something that could teach you a tremendous amount — not only about civics, but yourself, as well.

In Alabama, the requirements to be a poll worker come down to this:

- Must be a registered voter in the State of Alabama.

- Must be registered to vote in the county in which they desire to act as a poll worker.

- Must attend a mandatory poll worker training. There are no exceptions to this requirement.

- Cannot be a member of a candidate’s immediate family or the second degree of kinship, and cannot be a member of a candidate’s political committee.

Want to apply? Find the application here, at https://www.sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/become-poll-worker.