Malcolm Matt photographed by Sophia Wilson for W Magazine.
More than one million people worked at the polls for the first time this year. Folks under the age of 65 signed up to be poll workers in droves, building a movement among younger generations who, until this fall, might not have even been aware that they could sign up to help out with the electoral process in their precincts. Some participated to be part of a landmark election, others wanted to protect the elderly, immunocompromised people who usually fill these roles—but mostly, they saw it as an opportunity to perform a civic duty. W magazine traveled to lower Manhattan to speak with some first-time poll workers about their experiences, what pushed them to sign up, and their hopes for the future.
Amanda Pong, Chinatown
Why did you want to be a poll worker?
I have a ton of anxious energy, as I’m sure everyone else does, and I’m quite a control freak. I figure this is the best way I can channel both my anxiety and feel like I have some sense of control over the outcome of this election. In 2016, I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me; I was caught flat-footed. I don’t want that to happen again.
There’s also the pandemic element layered on top of it all: typically, poll workers are elderly folks. I’m able-bodied and I’m young. I know that I’d be able to recover better than an elderly person in the event that I got Covid, so I wanted to put myself out there for that.
How did you find information about signing up to being a poll worker?
Through the organization that I work for, the Brooklyn Nets. They’ve been offering up volunteer opportunities so much through the fall, and have encouraged us to take days off for phone banking, text banking. Barclays Center has also become a polling site, so it was really encouraged by my company.
Chrissy Nichol, LES/Chinatown Border
How did you find out about becoming a poll worker?
I got an email from an organization saying that most poll workers are over the age of 65, and that this year, they’re at risk. Plus, that it would be harder to staff the polls. So I signed up online, and finished the training.
Tell me about your training experience.
It sounds like among my fellow poll workers here today, there have been a couple of different training paths. Mine was online; I did a webinar-type course. It took maybe three hours, tops.
What time did you arrive?
I walked over here at 5 AM.
How many people are inside the polling place working?
It’s pretty well-staffed, I would say 20-25 people are here. There’s also some extra staff, because there is a guy whose only job is to just wipe down the voting booths, which I doubt was a thing in the past. There were also people who were out here when the lines were longer in the morning, making sure people were six feet apart.
Malcolm Matt, Chinatown
Why did you decide to become a poll worker?
To do my part. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the way of campaigning for anybody—because we all knew who we would be voting for: Joe Biden. This felt like something I could help with, a way to not be as passive, sitting at home, dreading today. It feels like putting good energy out into the world for the result we are hoping for. That might be stupid, but it feels better than not doing anything. It’s nice to just be around people who are like-minded. It’s also fun to see people come in excited to vote. I’ll be a poll worker for the next cycle, too.
What’s your job today?
I’m an inspector, which, really all I do is check people in. They come in, they give me their name, I check them in on the iPad and then I give them their ballots. It’s me and two other women, both of whom are from a nearby area in the Financial District, and we help them out.
What’s your plan for after you’re done working?
Go get drunk, and hope there is an early lead we can feel good about and go to sleep on.
Vahni Kurra, East Village
What time did you get here today?
I got here at 5 AM. That’s why there are incredibly deep, dark circles under my eyes.
How did you decide to become a poll worker?
As someone who is lucky enough not to be in an at-risk population, I thought that it was my responsibility to step up and do this. And honestly it sounded kind of fun.
How did you eventually sign up?
I just went on the Board of Elections website for New York. It was really easy—there was just a box I had to check. They got in contact with me after about a week. Then I did training, which was long. At first, it’s a little overwhelming because there’s a lot of information. But they give you a manual that’s very clear and laid out. It was nice to have that before coming in here, because I felt very prepared to work.
Luke Pauley, Lower East Side
Why did you decide to become a poll worker?
I feel like a lot of people are getting the day off of work—I did, and it seemed like a good way to fill that time and stave off some anxiety, have something to do during the day besides refresh my feed. It seemed like a more positive thing than just scrolling.
How did you find out about signing up to be a poll worker?
I feel like there was a blitz of information in September on social media, and even on streaming platform ads. Between that and Google, I ended up on the Board of Elections website and filled out the form.
Do you know a lot of folks who are working as first-time poll workers?
Definitely some coworkers—we’re at a small company called Alma and there are three or four people that are also doing it today, basically for the same reasons as I am.
Related: The Organizations Recruiting 700,000+ Poll Workers on Instagram
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