By Rebekah Caruthers | July 4, 2022
As we celebrate the Fourth of July and think through the freedoms living in the U.S. afford us, at the top of the list should be our ability to have free and fair elections.
For the millions of Americans watching the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the real-life effects of baselessly having our electoral process attacked has been on full display. Without a doubt, one of the groups of people who have been caught in the cross fires has been the one at the forefront of keeping elections safe and secure: poll workers.
In 2020, American voters turned out in record numbers despite the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that their voices were heard in the election of their government representatives. It would not have been possible without the tireless effort of hundreds of thousands of election workers around the country who helped people in their communities’ vote, which required going the extra mile to adapt to the impact of the pandemic. These civic-minded Americans gave their time, often working long hours, because of their dedication to our democracy and commitment to the values we all share as Americans.
As someone who works to recruit poll workers around the country through Fair Elections Center’s WorkElections program, I am mindful that we need to continue to recruit a diverse pool of poll workers who reflect the communities they serve. Poll workers are essential to our elections.
Election workers are committed to a fair election process, not to political agendas. That sense of patriotic duty is what drives us to help all Americans to exercise their own. The people who assist us at our polling places are our friends and neighbors whom we see at our grocery stores, houses of worship and workplaces every day. During the Jan. 6 congressional committee hearings, Georgia election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss gave powerful testimony about how attacks from politicians and extremists seeking to challenge the 2020 election results disrupted her life. No one should have to go through those experiences when they are simply trying to do their job.
Covid-19 has already made it more difficult for older Americans, who have long made up the majority of poll workers, and people with health conditions to safely work the polls — even if they had been doing so for decades.
Younger, healthier people have stepped up as poll workers through such initiatives as Power the Polls. We must push back against those who would deter would-be poll workers and continue to make sure that election workers come from all walks of life and political orientations.
I applaud the states that have responded to growing threats to our election system by advancing measures to crack down on harassment and intimidation by holding bad actors accountable with criminal penalties and helping poll workers keep their addresses and other personal information private. For example, in Maine, such legislation passed the state Legislature before being signed by the governor, demonstrating that protecting election workers should be a common sense, noncontroversial policy.
The Justice Department also set up an Election Threats Task Force last year to investigate reports of election worker threats and intimidation, which was a positive step to address this problem. But the federal government needs to do more to ensure that reports to this task force result in tangible actions that leave election workers more confident in their ability to serve safely.
Our country’s democratic process has long served as an inspiration around the world. But that process doesn’t run on its own. We need a large, diverse pool of poll workers who reflect the communities they serve. We encourage people to sign up to serve as poll workers at WorkElections.org. Being a poll worker is one of the most important things that people can do to make sure our democracy thrives. At Fair Elections Center, we will continue to advocate for continued safety measures as we recruit more people to get involved in our election system. In this polarized political climate, poll workers help strengthen and maintain the integrity in our system so elections can continue to run smoothly without interference.
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Rebekah Caruthers is an attorney and the Vice President at Fair Elections Center.