Commentary

Elections need civic-minded workers – and fewer lies by politicians

‘It’s an honest job. We have an honest group of people.’

August 11, 2022 12:02 am

Moses Loynes, an election officer in Henrico County, leans against a ballot counting machine as voters trickle through the polling place at Charles M. Johnson Elementary School on Election Day. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

If you’ve ever wanted to work the polls on Election Day in Virginia, you’re in luck.

Several localities around the state need help, especially from newly trained aides. Some cities and counties have boosted pay, appealed to residents’ sense of civic duty and emphasized the role everyday Virginians play in ensuring elections run smoothly.

“It’s important for the community to give back, and to help us administer safe and secure elections,” Christine Lewis, director of elections for Virginia Beach, told me. The state’s largest city added eight new polling locations this year, so it now has to staff more than 100 precincts.

What’s left unsaid: Virginia doesn’t face the same level of electoral acrimony and conspiracies as other states following Donald Trump’s persistent lies about the 2020 presidential results.

Thank goodness.

Maybe it’s because Democrat Joe Biden blitzed Trump here. He defeated the Republican standard-bearer by 10 percentage points and nearly half a million votes in Virginia in 2020. The outcome continued a recent streak of wins by Democratic presidential nominees in the commonwealth.

Republican Glenn Youngkin won a close gubernatorial contest against Democrat Terry McAuliffe in 2021. But Republicans obviously don’t throw shade on election results when they come out on top.

How convenient: When the GOP wins, the system worked. When the party loses, it must have been rigged.

I mention all of this after the Washington bureau of the Virginia Mercury’s parent organization, States Newsroom, reported on a congressional hearing seeking ways to combat violent threats against election officials. Trump stoked many of those past ill-informed attacks because he was a sore loser who didn’t want to relinquish power.

He also incited the insurrectionists who laid waste to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and tried to negate the votes of 81 million Americans.

Election officials during the congressional hearing cited actions taken against them that included doxxing, in which the personal information of someone is posted publicly, and profanity-laden protests at their homes. A national survey this year said one in five elections officials are somewhat or very unlikely to stay in their jobs through the presidential 2024 contest.

Elsewhere, Kim Wyman, the top election security official at the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said concerns for physical safety have “really ramped up since 2020 because of threats that we’ve seen to state and local officials across the country,” CNN reported.

Poll workers don’t usually draw the same level of attacks. However, some faced danger based on ginned-up, false accusations from Trump or his minions.

They included a mother and daughter in Fulton County, Ga., of which the heavily African-American city of Atlanta is part. The two women went into hiding after Rudy Giuliani made fact-free claims they had rigged the outcome in Georgia for Biden.

Trump helped poison what should be a nonpartisan, civic-minded task. Some states, particularly the few battlegrounds that aren’t perpetually blue or red, could face problems in finding enough people to oversee the voting booths on Election Day.

Yet many people who have agreed to take the job said they have a commitment to America and democracy, according to a July PolitiFact article.

“Our whole democracy is voting, and when you lose voting, you have no democracy,” said a retired schoolteacher who became a new poll worker in Florida.

Several officials in Virginia told me they haven’t received reports suggesting poll workers retired because of threats or fears for their safety. Rather, officials must continually recruit because of the age of longtime poll workers, their health and ongoing fears of COVID-19.

Applicants must be registered voters in the state. They cannot be an elected official or an employee of an elected official.

“It’s a long day,” conceded Lisa McDonald, general registrar for Shenandoah County, speaking about Election Day. The 15- to 16-hour shifts turn off some people, she said, but many residents want to help out – especially in the presidential years.

“We recently had some responses and are getting some new workers, which is good,” she added, noting residents should feel confident in the accuracy of early voting and Election Day ballots.

Chesapeake, the state’s second-largest city, recently boosted pay on Election Day for poll workers to $240, after the minimum wage rose to $15 per hour. Previously, the rate was a little more than $11 an hour. Poll workers also receive $25 for a three-hour training session.

“We weren’t necessarily affected negatively” by the political atmosphere nationwide, said Keith Heyward, who coordinates the so-called “officers of elections” in Chesapeake. The city operates 66 precincts for its 172,000 registered voters.

“It’s an honest job,” Heyward continued. “We have an honest group of people.”

That’s crucial to remember.

People who care about this country – really care – want to make sure votes are tallied fairly, accurately and without interference. It’s an honor to handle that important task for local, state and federal elections.

And despicable when politicians taint the process by lying and inciting violence.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]

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