Bobbi Bowman, Susan Fadness and Diane Roberts aren't going to let a pandemic keep them from what they say is their patriotic and civic duty: working at their local polling places to help friends and neighbors cast their ballots.
They are among the more than 1 million Americans across the country needed to sign in voters, check their identification, in some states, and help voters navigate the election process. And in 2020, helpers are being asked to do even more: wipe down voting machines, remind people to social distance and in some states help process the unprecedented number of absentee ballots that have already been cast.
"I feel like it is my civic duty to do this,” said Bowman, 74, a retired journalist who lives in Northern Virginia and who has been a poll worker since 2012. “This is an election in which we have to save our country and I decided my contribution is going to be working on Election Day."
The majority of people who traditionally work at the polls are older Americans, especially those who are retired and don't have to take time off from work to perform this civic duty. In 2018, 83 percent of people working the polls were over age 40, with 31 percent ages 61 to 70 and 27 percent age 71 and older, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
COVID-19 fears prevented Fadness, a 70-year-old retired hospital social worker, from working at the polls during Wisconsin's April and August primaries. “There were so many unknowns about the coronavirus at that time,” said Fadness, who has worked the polls in several previous elections. But now, she says, the public has learned so much more about how to cope with the pandemic and take precautions to stop its spread. She decided to sign up to work in November. Although almost everyone she knows plans to vote using an absentee ballot, “some people just need to come to the polls so we need to make sure that they can do that."
Diane Roberts, who runs her own broadcasting production business in Washington, D.C., heard from the SAG-AFTRA union she still belongs to that poll workers were desperately needed for this election so she and a friend decided to sign up.
"I feel this is a very important election,” Roberts said. “Being a poll worker is a way for me to show my patriotism.” Roberts said she believes it is important for people who are relatively young and healthy to step up at a time when those who usually do this work are hesitant because of the virus. Despite her willingness to help, Roberts learned recently that the District of Columbia didn’t need her at the polls this fall after all. “I’m very disappointed,” she said.