Election Day through the eyes of Community Solutions poll workers

On Election Day, three members of the Community Solutions team worked polling places in Northeast Ohio. Eboney Thornton and Kate Warren worked at two different polling locations within the City of Cleveland, while Julie Patterson worked a polling site in Geauga County. Learn more about each of their experiences below. 

Eboney Thornton
Polling Location: City of Cleveland

It’s more than casting a ballot—that’s one of the things that I learned while working the polls this year. From the safeguards that were put in place to ensure eligible voters could vote (scanning IDs, double-checking registrations) to calming down anxious first-time voters, it is fascinating to witness our election process in person. Election Day is a long one for many – but especially for poll workers who have to report to their locations by 5:30 a.m. and don’t leave until well after the polls close. While I’ve been a poll worker in the past, this year, I had the opportunity to be a voter location manager – the person in charge of making sure that everything runs smoothly, everyone was protected and following health guidelines, and that all voters get to exercise their right to vote without interruption or intimidation.

As a woman and a person of color, I don’t take the right to vote lightly.

While some incidents with a small handful of people had me questioning if I wanted to be a poll worker, they were quickly banished by some of the most inspiring voters I had the chance to meet. One voter, who requested an absentee ballot but didn’t receive it in time, traveled hours to cast a ballot because making sure her vote counted was more important than the hours of travel she had to endure. A second voter was casting a ballot for the first time and did everything to make sure he could vote only to encounter one obstacle after another. As frustrating as these obstacles were, this voter was determined to vote—and was able to with the help of the Board of Elections and my fellow poll workers.

As a woman and a person of color, I don’t take the right to vote lightly, and realize that I get to exercise that right comes from the hard work of those who’ve come before me. On Election Day I realized that I have taken for granted how easy it was for me to cast my vote, thanks to the voters who didn’t let a pandemic, lost ballot or any other obstacle stop them from casting their vote.

Kate Warren
Polling Location: City of Cleveland

This year was my first serving as a poll worker, and I wasn’t alone. Eleven out of 18 poll workers at my location were first-timers; we assumed that many of the regular workers stayed home this year due to risk of being exposed to COVID-19. I was worried that our overall inexperience would lead to a less smooth Election Day, but my fears were quelled early, as our team steadily handled the early morning rush. Before our polling location opened, about 50 people were in line, and by the time the morning lines disappeared, about 250 ballots had been cast. It was exciting, and I also felt the weight of what we were doing – carrying out a duty that supports the very underpinning of our democracy.

Eleven out of 18 poll workers at my location were first-timers.

I found myself frustrated by the moments that I wanted to have a better solution than what exists in our current system. People who earnestly wanted to vote, and thought they were registered, but weren’t. People who requested their absentee ballots late but never received it, or were nervous about mailing it in. After seeing the process up close, I can’t help but wish it were simpler to vote. It is, after all, the bedrock of our democracy.

I found myself heartened by the unity of poll workers in the midst of a divisive election. Want to see bipartisan cooperation? Go to a polling place. In Ohio, each polling place is required to have workers from a mix of parties, and many tasks require two people from opposite parties to work together in order to preserve the security and integrity of the election. How refreshing to be in a room full of diverse strangers, not just getting along, but collaborating and relying on one another.

Want to see bipartisan cooperation? Go to a polling place.

Finally, I found myself encouraged by the kindness of voters. I think we all knew that this election, while polarized, was extraordinary because of the pandemic. Voters were overwhelmingly patient, kind, gracious and excited to vote. I’m glad the poll workers were there to support all voters exercising their rights.

Julie Patterson
Polling Location: Geauga County

Sunny and warm, it was a good day for an election in small town Ohio.

In many ways, it was an election like any other – seeing neighbors and asking about the kids, the basketball team and 4-H. One worker has worked this location in every election for more than 25 years, and knew the majority of voters who came in by name. Just like at the post office, the polling location operates much like a neighborhood watering hole. Unlike a watering hole, the “neutral zone” rules about no politicking were taken seriously.

Despite the contentiousness in the country as a whole, this exurb in Northeast Ohio was a place where a smiling check-in table poll worker offered everyone hand sanitizer and masks, and reminded them to stay six feet apart. Voters complied with the rules, the way they do in every election. The right to vote is one that these folks intended to exercise. In fact, there was 82 percent voter turnout overall county-wide.

In fact, there was 82 percent voter turnout overall county-wide.

People on their way to work only waited about 30 minutes at most, and that morning wait was the longest all day. Many people came after school or work, but the line moved smoothly. Cheers went up with a mother’s announcement that her daughter was a first-time voter.

Diligent poll workers calmly explained the process for voting when a voter’s address had changed, or when they were in the wrong location. Only a very few were upset or even annoyed about the extra steps involved in voting with a provisional ballot. Folks seemed to trust these workers and the local Board of Elections. Several people said ‘thank you’ to the bipartisan poll workers for spending the long day ensuring democracy in action.

Thank you, dear. Have a good day.

One of the highlights of the day was when an older gentleman came in wearing a hat with a political slogan – seemingly accidental electioneering. The check-in table worker asked him to please take it off and he quickly placed it upside down on a nearby chair, with a sheepish look. As he finished voting and retrieved his hat on the way out, the poll worker called, “Thank you, dear. Have a good day.”