On Election Day next Tuesday, when people head to the polls to vote, they will cast their ballot and return home, perhaps paying more attention to what’s on the ballot than the people who keep the democratic process turning.
Most of those people running the elections at the polls are senior citizens. According to the Pew Research Center, in the 2018 general election, 58% of poll workers were ages 61 and older and 27% were older than 70.
John Rawson, 87, of Lewiston, and Carrie Bieren, 67, of Lewiston, are two poll workers who are involved with elections in Nez Perce County. Rawson has been working for the past five or six years and Bieren has been doing it for five years. Some people Bieren works with have been doing it for 20-30 years.
“They are dedicated and really enjoy serving as a poll worker,” she said.
Bieren works at the polling center at the Nez Perce County Fairgrounds and Rawson works at the polling precinct at the Lewiston Community Center.
“I always told them I’ll go anywhere they need me,” he said.
The two have been working at the same precinct year after year. It’s similar for many poll workers and, because of that, they become familiar with the voters and vice versa. In fact, some people know their precinct because they recognize the poll workers.
“We just try to make it enjoyable for people to come and vote because it’s important,” Bieren said. “We try to be friendly.”
She also likes seeing families at the polls, including her two sons, who bring their kids with them.
“I think it’s really great for my grandkids to see their parents voting — and Grandma is there,” Bieren said, which helps teach them the importance of voting by seeing others participate in the process.
Young and old come to vote on Election Day, including some with age-related challenges. Bieren said that some have difficulty walking and come in with walkers and canes, but still make time to vote.
“They want to come and vote, it’s important to them,” Bieren said.
Voters who come in and see the precincts all set up often don’t know the behind-the-scenes work that goes into Election Day. And it starts before Nov. 8.
Like with any job — yes, it is paid — poll workers begin with training. The training goes over how to use the equipment, such as a scanner for driver’s licenses, and the roles of various clerks at the precincts.
Each precinct in Nez Perce County needs four poll workers who have specific duties required by law. One of the roles is the chief judge, who acts as the overseer and is the go-to person for any question. Another clerk checks people in and makes sure their photo ID and address match the voter registration. The issuing clerk stamps and gives the voter their ballot along with instructions on how to fill it out and if it’s double-sided. When voters are done and hand in their ballots, the receiving clerk takes them and slips them into the ballot box.
“It’s all very precise,” Bieren said. “It has to be done a certain way and we’re very conscious of that.”
Before she became a poll worker, Bieren had no idea of the amount of work that goes into it. During her first time working an election, she was nervous and wanted to make sure she was doing it right, so she had someone write down what to say to each person.
On Election Day, poll workers arrive at 7 a.m. and help set up the voting booths, tables, chairs and instructional posters, and stay until all of the ballots are counted. They have to count the ballots by hand to make sure the total matches the number of the people who voted. That process usually goes until 9 p.m., then the tally clerk places all of the ballots into a locked box, which is then taken to the courthouse by a security guard. After that, the tables and booths are taken down. “Then we’re tired, so we go home,” Bieren said.
Rawson said there’s no big hurrah at the end of Election Day.
“We’re all old people and it’s been a long day,” Rawson said. “But there’s no celebration, it’s just, ‘OK, let’s go home.’ ”
During the day, poll workers can’t leave the precinct and so they have to bring food with them, but there are lulls when they can take a break. Bieren said the polls are busy right when they first open. Then it slows down before picking up again around noon, when people come to vote during their lunch breaks. The final rush starts around 3:30 p.m. and lasts until 7 p.m.
The type of election also determines how busy it is, with more people voting in general elections that happen in November.
“I expect this November will be very, very busy — I’m hoping,” said Rawson, who prefers working during general elections. “Generally because they’re busier; I mean, it’s a 13-hour day.”
Although there has been some national issues of poll workers being harassed, Rawson and Bieren said they’ve been treated well.
“(Voters have) been excellent. I’ve never had a problem,” Rawson said.
Bieren is thankful there haven’t been any issues in her precinct either, and hasn’t heard of anyone else dealing with harassment.
But there is one thing voters will cause a fuss over: voting stickers. People who cast their ballot earn an “I voted” sticker, which in some years haven’t been available.
“That was our biggest complaint from the voters … that we didn’t have stickers,” Rawson said.
Bieren missed being able to hand them out when they weren’t available. She said that people like wearing them to show that they’ve exercised their democratic right to vote.
“I like the stickers, personally,” she said. “I proudly wear mine.”
Getting a sticker isn’t the only incentive to vote.
“It gives us a say, if you will, in what’s going on in our government, especially at the local level,” Bieren said. “Each vote has a big impact on who serves.”
Rawson puts it in simpler terms.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” he said.
Whatever reason a voter has to cast their ballot, poll workers like Rawson and Bieren make exercising that right possible.
Brewster may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2297.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”
Poll worker John Rawson, 87, of Lewiston
“I think it’s really great for my grandkids to see their parents voting – and Grandma is there,” which helps teach them the importance of voting by seeing others participate in the process.
Poll worker Carrie Bieren, 67, of Lewiston