University student and professor experience ups and downs of Election Day as poll workers

While election officials applauded first time voters in Newark, poll workers in Bear were accused of "wiping away" votes with disinfectant.

poll workers illustration
Sam Ford/THE REVIEW
While election officials applauded first time voters in Newark, poll workers in Bear were accused of “wiping away” votes with disinfectant.​

BY
Contributing Reporter​

While election officials applauded first time voters in Newark, poll workers in Bear were accused of “wiping away” votes with disinfectant.

That was just some of what university student Alexandra Poletaev and her professor, David Redlawsk, encountered in a long day of working as volunteer clerks at Delaware polling places in the most stressful presidential election in recent memory.

The day was, in Poletaev’s words, “a wild experience.”

After participating in a four-hour training course and reviewing the poll worker manual, Redlawsk, who chairs the university’s Political Science department, and Poletaev, a junior political science major with a minor in legal studies, began their duties as first-time election clerks on Nov. 3 in Newark and Bear, Delaware, respectively.

Poletaev is one of Redlawsk’s students for an independent study class tailored around the poll worker experience, which allows students to receive credit for participation. While Redlawsk and his student, Poletaev, were located at different polling places, both of their days began at the crack of dawn and ran all the way until 9 p.m.

According to Poletaev, lines began to form before she arrived at the poll site in Bear. The expected wait time for voters in line was about two hours before they could cast their vote.

Alexandra Poletaev​Courtesy of Alexandra Poletaev​/THE REVIEW
​Alexandra Poletaev, one of Redlawsk’s students who was a poll worker for the first time on Nov. 3.​

“At its peak, it was a two-hour wait from what people have reported to us, but that was from opening until about 10 a.m.,” Poletaev said. “It was a heavy rush pattern, but I think that people had the same idea of, ‘Let’s go very early so we can get in now, because no one’s going to be going at 5 a.m.’”

After 10 a.m., Poletaev noticed that the lines quickly began to disappear.

“As soon as 12 o’clock rolled around, it was barren, and we only had maybe five or six people in the polling place at the same time,” Poletaev said.

Similarly, Redlawsk encountered the same situation at the Newark location where he was working. Voters began to line up early in the morning, but crowds were gone by the afternoon.

“It’s as if everybody came all at once at the beginning or that they mailed in their ballot,” said Redlawsk, who studies how voters make their decisions.

David Redlawsk Headshot​Courtesy of David Redlawsk​/THE REVIEW
​Professor David Redlawsk, who held an independent study class this semester tailored around the poll worker experience.​

As clerks, Redlawsk and Poletaev’s responsibilities rotated throughout the day: this included checking IDs for registration status, assisting voters with any questions they had regarding the process, and working the polling machines. Along with these tasks, election officials had to follow certain rules and procedures while working at their polling places.

“The most important thing is that you maintained both a positive attitude and you be strictly nonpartisan,” Redlawsk said. “Your goal is to be friendly, to help people vote and to not show any partisan preference at all.”

Sanitizing protocols were also put in place for election officials to follow. Poletaev said she had to sanitize the polling stations in between each voter, which led to some people believing their votes were being “wiped away.”

“People had been spreading rumors that every time an election worker cleaned the machine, we were cleaning away their vote,” Poletaev said. “They also said that it was voter suppression that we were cleaning the machines, because we were using rubbing alcohol, like isopropyl alcohol, and they said that that was making the screens sticky, so it was harder for them to vote.”

Poletaev said some voters used this sanitization process against poll workers in order to accuse them of voter suppression.

“They said that we were erasing their vote, like we would check if we didn’t like who they voted for, we would wipe it away with a cloth,” Poletaev said.

While she was only accused by one person of what they called “voter suppression,” Poletaev said she had to fully reassure them that was not the case.

“I work at the Christiana Mall, so I felt like all of my customer service training kicked in at that moment … I said, ‘Because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we want to be sanitizing everything thoroughly, making sure that everyone is as safe as possible during this process,’ and I showed them just exactly what I was doing,” Poletaev said.

In the Newark area, Redlawsk said that his polling location only experienced one small technical hiccup. An electronic pollbook (computers that contain voter registration information) had glitched soon after they finished setting everything up, but it was quickly fixed after a call with the Board of Elections help desk.

All in all, Poletaev and Redlawsk said their first election as poll workers ran very smoothly and they even got to witness a few joyous moments throughout the day.

“All of the election officials stopped and applauded every time a first-time voter came in,” Redlawsk said.

Poletaev also mentioned that working the polls was an opportunity everyone should experience at one point or another.

“It was a wild experience but so fun,” Poletaev said.

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