Pennsylvania dispatch: a Pittsburgh poll worker reports from ‘the front lines of democracy’
© WikiMedia (Phil Roeder)
Pennsylvania dispatch: a Pittsburgh poll worker reports from ‘the front lines of democracy’

JURIST staffers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law are filing dispatches on various aspects of the November 2022 midterm elections in Pennsylvania. Here, JURIST Assistant Editor and Pitt Law 1L JP Leskovich reports on his experience as a local poll worker on November 8. 

The world has been watching the US midterm elections, particularly as they’ve played out in Pennsylvania. A friend of mine who works for Allegheny County and was “drafted” for election duty even told me that she met a German reporter covering the vote yesterday. I was on election duty too, serving in my precinct in Pittsburgh as the Judge of Election, the poll worker in charge of the polling place.

There were four voting precincts sharing a room in the local community center, each of us with our own station to check-in voters and conduct voting. We got there before dawn, when the air was still cold and crisp: polls opened at 7 AM, but poll workers needed to be there at 6 AM to set things up. As the Judge, I’d picked up some materials over the weekend, and in the morning, my husband and I took the short walk to the nearby community center to get ready for the day. It’s common for family and friends to serve together at the polling place. In fact, our friend was joining us to help. People working at the other precincts in the room were also friends, and many knew each other. This is common–voting is ultimately a social activity and election day is a source of community.

That sense of community, responsibility, and commitment was woven into everything we did yesterday. In the morning, we warmly welcomed one another, but dutifully verified our equipment, set up our paperwork, and prepared in time for voters to arrive. In our precinct, the first voter arrived at 6:40–20 minutes early. We were ready, but he had to wait until the polls opened. He knew that would be the case–he just wanted to beat his neighbor to number 1. It was the first sign of high voter energy and turnout that was consistent throughout the day.

Our precinct saw more than 200 people vote in person. Combined with the approximately 100 mail ballots cast from our precinct, the turnout was higher than it had been 2018. Each of the other precincts in the room also saw elevated turnout for a midterm. We could feel it while working, as there was never a lull. Throughout the entire day, a steady stream of voters came in to cast their ballots and have their voices heard. When people entered the room, poll workers would direct them to the correct precinct station. Though it could have been confusing for voters to navigate, the election worker teams at each station collaborated and supported one another to ensure that the day went as smoothly as possible.

Once a person was directed to the correct precinct station, we would check them in by asking for their last name and finding them in the poll book. Once we found them, they would sign the book to verify their eligibility. Some people had to show some sort of ID, because it was their first time voting in person at that precinct. Many people used student IDs, a testament to how many young people, particularly young women, went out of their way to vote yesterday, potentially motived by issues like abortion. Some people had mail ballots they needed to surrender. I would walk them through the form to surrender their mail ballot, and then provide them with a ballot to vote in person. Others had to vote provisionally, either because they could not find their mail ballot or because they weren’t sure if they were in the right location. Once people were given their ballots, they filled them out and cast them by putting them into a machine. If they needed help, we would answer questions.

In every one of these situations, the goals were the same: to ensure that everyone who could vote was able to, and to guarantee the security of the election. The Judges and poll workers for each precinct all leaned on each other to make sure the polling location as a whole was well-run and welcoming to voters. And the voters showed their appreciation, thanking us dearly and even bringing us snacks for our long day. Voters’ kids, excitedly tagging along, would say thank you before leaving with a sticker and a smile. No matter who we were, we were united in our democracy.

Pennsylvania polls closed at 8 PM. At the end of the day, we diligently completed the required procedures to close our precinct stations. We knew that people were refreshing the news and anxiously awaiting results, so we did what we could to get done quickly. At no point, though, was there a rush–the top priority was ensuring that everything was done properly, secured properly, reported properly. When our precinct station was closed, we publicly posted the results that our machine printed. I then whipped off to the Regional Reporting Center to return our results to be officially counted. Even there, the community feeling was palpable. Judges from the area, bags of ballots in hand, lined up in a school hallway and eagerly traded stories about the high turnout in their precincts. I gave my materials to the county workers and we exchanged thanks before I headed home to see what the American people had to say.

Working the polls is working on the front lines of democracy. On those front lines, you see how democracy builds community, bestows responsibilities, and engenders commitment. There are plenty of results left to count, but one thing was clear to me after working this election: voters are engaged, and Pennsylvania’s spirit of democracy thrives.