Trust, safety priorities for election workers
November 3, 2020
Making sure voters can trust the voting process is of paramount importance to election workers in southern Wisconsin this election season. This is especially true in a year when misinformation is everywhere about things such as the United States Postal Service and corona virus.
“We have lots of classes and protocols to maintain the integrity of each election,” said Graceann Toberman, clerk/treasurer of the Town of Magnolia in western Rock County. “We want it to run as smoothly as everyone else does because we want everybody’s vote to count.”
If people aren’t as trusting, Toberman invites them to observe the absentee ballot process on election day, she said.
“There are so many checks and balances and protocols that go into this process that I don’t think people actually realize it all,” she said. “We want to do our best and let the voters know they can be confident in our abilities.”
Jennifer Heaton-Amrhein is a poll worker for the second time in the Village of McFarland and has helped reassure those closest to her that American elections are safe and secure as is ballot processing. She said there is so much more heightened awareness and scrutiny over the election this year, which just makes poll workers take their jobs even more seriously and be extra meticulous in following rules.
“Clerks and election inspectors are very conscientious in ensuring a fair and secure election,” Amrhein said. “Fortunately, every poll worker I’ve worked with is fully committed to ensuring fair elections so we can all continue to be confident in the results.”
People are distrustful of the mail but also afraid to vote in person because of the virus outbreak, she said. She has been recommending voters mail ballots back early then check online to be sure the ballots were received. Other options include using local drop boxes, which are new this year, to return ballots instead of relying on the mail, or choose in-person absentee to vote early. Curbside voting is another safe option.
“In-person voting on election day is also a good option and will be much safer since so many people voted early,” she said.
In addition to the trust issue, Toberman said voters can also feel confident in the safety of the physical set up of polling locations. Her location is equipped with hand sanitizer and plenty of space to vote while social distancing. Workers are required to wear face masks and equipment is sanitized between uses.
“We are keeping doors propped open as much as possible, weather permitting, so people do not have to handle doorknobs,” she said.
Toberman, who has been the treasurer of the Town of Magnolia since 1993 and the clerk/treasurer since 2003 when the positions were combined, said absentee ballot numbers for this year’s presidential election are many times higher than in other years. She has been very busy working with voters to get ballots to them.
“It used to be a big deal if we had 18 absentees for a presidential election,” Toberman said. “This year we have 181.”
Toberman has about 450 registered voters in the Town of Magnolia. Twenty-three of those registrations are new this year. This number fluctuates slightly based on young people coming of voting age and other people moving out or into the township.
“When the state of Wisconsin allowed in-person absentee voting from October 20 to October 30, many people took advantage of that from their vehicles,” she said. “We took everything right to them.”
Working at elections can be very satisfying for some people who simply want to be involved in the process and help their community. Crystal Gums feels it is her patriotic duty to her country to help people have the opportunity to vote. She will be serving as a greeter at the Delavan, Wisconsin police station. Her job duties include greeting voters, helping them find the correct line for registration and voting, making sure people aren’t wearing political propaganda or having political conversations and generally guiding people in the right direction.
“There is lots of training that goes into being a poll worker in any capacity,” Gums said. “But this is my responsibility, my duty to my country. Regardless of how people vote, we all need to do things for our country and remain unbiased.”
Katie Johnson is working at Janesville City Hall in Rock County. Her primary goal in stepping up to work on election day was to help make sure everybody has an opportunity to vote because every vote counts, she said.
“I have friends who have called, written letters and helped send out texts to push their candidates,” she said. “I just felt in an election so divided that most people already knew which way they were going to vote, so the best use of my time would be to help out at the polls.”
She knows voting is a right American citizens have, and not all citizens in all countries have this right. She wants to ensure everybody has a chance to exercise that right.
“The more people working the polls, the more efficient things are run, the more places we can have open, the more people can vote,” Johnson said.