The poll worker perspective: Athens poll workers prepare for 2022 election cycle – Red and Black

Delamater portrait

Cory DeLamater, a poll worker in Athens-Clarke County, sits on the steps of City Hall in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Maddie Brechtel)

Most people only think about voting every two or four years. But for Cory DeLamater, it has not only become a steady occupation for two decades, but a family tradition, with her parents and her children joining her in staffing Athens-Clarke County polls on election days.

DeLamater became a poll worker by accident, picking up shifts as a young wife and mother. But 22 years later, poll-working has become a way of life for DeLamater.

As DeLamater and her fellow poll workers prepare for the ACC mayoral election on May 24, the first in a year full of elections, they are doing so in the context of national attention to Georgia voters and following a contentious 2020 election year in which election workers faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide election misinformation. 

As the manager for her precinct, DeLemater ensures everything runs smoothly by leading with organization and structure. 

“I personally feel a lot of responsibility. Because I feel like I want everybody to vote. And I want everybody to have a good experience,” DeLemater said. 

A Family Affair

DeLemater has lived in Athens her whole life. She attended Clarke Central High School and donned red and black until graduating the University of Georgia in 1995 with a Spanish degree. 

She planned to get a master’s to teach, but after getting married and looking at her options, DeLemater decided to pick up “odd jobs here and there” when she fell into working the polls. 

Her lifelong friend and neighbor, who then was involved in elections management, asked her to help out knowing that DeLamater had a flexible schedule.

Athens Clarke-County has 24 voting precincts. DeLemater manages precinct 4b, which includes the Five Points area, since her start as poll worker in 2000. 

Memorial Park serves as the polling location for the precinct. DeLemater said the large number of precincts in the county helps to prevent long lines from forming. She said she has personally never seen a day where people have had to wait for multiple hours in her precinct voting location. 

While technically a second-generation poll worker, DeLemater was actually the one to recruit her parents. 

“I recruited them, I needed poll workers. I just needed more people in order to adequately serve the voters. That’s one of the struggles of being a precinct manager,” DeLemater said. 

Delamater’s children also began working the polls with her. Since the position is paid, around $10 an hour, DeLemater’s son and daughter began in high school as a way to make quick cash. 

For DeLemater however, the money is not a motivating factor. 

“I don’t think we’re compensated enough for what we do but it’s fine with me. None of us do it for the money,” DeLemater said. 

Now with her son attending UGA and her daughter attaining her masters, money is no longer a big motivator. 

“My kids are doing it because they understand the importance of voting and the importance of having people willing to sacrifice an entire day,” DeLemater said. 

Not a typical job 

In order to become a poll worker, applicants must fill out an online application and meet the following requirements: be at least 16 years of age, live in ACC or one of the adjoining counties and be able to speak, read and write fluently in English, according to the ACC government website. Then, they undergo a short interview and can work as a poll worker if deemed a good candidate. 

Poll workers go through extensive training before working elections. 

According to DeLemater, they go through five to six hours of paid training under the Board of Elections prior to working every election. The training includes lectures and some hands-on experience, including machine training to familiarize the workers with the technology. During the height of the pandemic, the training was virtual. 

DeLemater said the majority of poll workers are those over 60 and retired because poll workers labor the entire day, making it difficult to maintain a 9-5 job at the same time. 

Poll Worker Ages Data

Data showing the distribution of ages of poll workers running the 2018 general election. (Graphic/Maddie Brechtel)

As a result, every year more poll workers are needed even with the returners because some of those that have previously worked the polls grow weary of the 14 hour shifts that start before sunrise. 

For DeLemater, making sure voters are educated on the topics they are voting on is also crucial. This is why poll workers are supplied with laminated brochures listing candidates’ platforms and issues on the ballot, which are handed out to those waiting in line. 

Poll workers receive a variety of training, not just in managing the elections but also in managing and assisting a variety of voters. DeLemater said they are all trained to be able to assist any voters with disabilities and to handle any emergency situation. Most voters who do not speak English as a first language typically have a translator with them. 

As for casting their own vote, DeLemater said all poll workers in her precinct take advantage of early voting, which they have easy access to. 

A poll worker also must abide by the golden rule: do not talk about or wear anything to do with politics. In the past, workers who have come in wearing candidate merchandise have been asked to take it off or at the very least flip a shirt inside out. 

“I want everybody to vote. They may not vote the way I vote and that’s fine,” DeLemater said. “It doesn’t matter what my political beliefs are, we just want everybody to have the opportunity to vote and to take advantage of that.”

Voting through the years

Despite having seen over a decade of election days, DeLemater said that voter turnout has stayed mostly consistent. 

“It’s not so much the year, it really has to do with what people are voting for,” DeLemater said. 

According to a 2020 article from The Red & Black, the voter turnout of the last election was a lofty 67%, and DeLemater expects to see high turnout for this year’s local elections. 

A revolutionary change to elections DeLemater saw during her years working elections is the shift in technology, specifically voting machines.

“It has come light years, to say the least. It runs so much smoother,” DeLemater said. 

The law requiring voter identification has also helped the process, according to DeLemater, who said it cuts down on mistakes made by poll workers in checking off names, especially those with suffixes. 

“While an ID is controversial and a change, from my perspective as a poll manager, it has really helped the process,” DeLemater said.

In terms of transferring the vote from the voting machine to be counted, DeLemater said poll workers follow a strict process. The voting machines have no internet access, so DeLemater manually removes the memory card and, accompanied by one of her two assistant managers, transfers the card to the Board of Elections’ main office. 

The office checks in at certain times as well to ensure the process is going as it should, making for a clean and smooth process with little issues. 

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