Defenders of Democracy

NJFON Staff Member on the joys—and perils—of being a poll worker on Election Day

If you’re a voter or have ever visited a polling location, then you have undoubtedly seen for yourself that most poll workers are older adults. In fact, a full 58% of them are over 60 years of age, making them vulnerable to a higher risk of complications due to COVID-19. Many seasoned poll workers will be unable to serve this year, and election experts fear a massive shortage in November.

Now is the time for the younger generation, those who are not medically compromised, and especially those who speak a language other than English, to step up to ensure a safe, fair, and orderly election for ALL voters.

Yes, we are looking at YOU. Or maybe your adult children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends or neighbors. 

Be aware that each jurisdiction or locality (your city or county) will have its own rules about who can serve—in some states, green card holders are eligible, for example. Jurisdictions also vary on the amount of training required, whether they offer a stipend, and the hours the polls are open. 

You can contact your local Board of Elections OR sign up at Power the Polls. 

We’re proud of our JFON staff members who volunteer at the polls. I happen to be one of them! I have been an election officer since 2008, working every year for the primaries, general elections and also during our early voting period. In Virginia, we have our federal elections in the even-numbered years and our state elections in the odd-numbered years. So, yes, I have been through many elections. 

As a matter of fact, I’ve worked two primary elections since the COVID-19 pandemic started. In both cases, we were given substantial amounts of PPE, including masks, gloves, and face shields. We were also careful to sanitize everything throughout the day. 

Want to vote, but can’t make it inside the polling location? No problem! We serve ALL voters.

This November, I’ll be at my usual polling location—it’s an area heavily populated with new American voters and people too often disenfranchised for one reason or another.

Not on my watch! My job is to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to vote. Here I am pictured providing curbside assistance to a 100-year-old voter. That was a very good day.

I wish you could see the joy on the faces of new U.S. citizens voting for the first time. We (okay, it was me) have established our own tradition: we ring a bell for them, offer them a piece of candy—it’s only for the first-timers, so hands off!—and then everybody in the polling place gives these new voters a well-deserved round of applause. 

Yes, it is the most awesome, feel-good experience you can imagine. But then, I confess that I am a voting geek and a total sucker for the exercise of democracy. 

See you at the polls! 

Laura Sonnenmark
NJFON Communications Manager



August 2020: For those of you who follow us on social media, you may have noticed that we’ve been celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment this month with a series highlighting suffragist leaders from immigrant and marginalized communities. 

In this photo, dated 1935, New York City, we see a group of Yiddish-speaking immigrant women enjoying the hard-won victories of this earlier generation as they register to vote for the first time.

I like to imagine what these women must have been feeling right at this moment. All of them were survivors of centuries of pogroms, oppression and persecution in Europe; and now they prepare to take an active part in their new country’s democracy and enjoy one of our most cherished freedoms.   


Cover photo credit: Coburn Dukehart Creative Commons


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