HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (NCC News) Amid a global pandemic, the 2020 presidential election is vastly different than in years past.
With COVID-19 restrictions and new ways of voting, many polling locations, like those in New Jersey, have also seen a need for poll workers — leading to a large percentage of first-time volunteers managing the polls on Nov. 3.
This Election Day, poll workers in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, navigated the unfamiliarity of working the polls in an equally unfamiliar voting year:
Leading up to Election Day, Linda Ialacci, 57, repeatedly saw online posts about New Jersey polling locations needing volunteers to work on Nov. 3. Since previous volunteers, many of whom are older, were nervous or unable to participate due to COVID-19, Ialacci decided to volunteer.
“I also wanted to make sure there were no shortages that would impact the democratic process negatively,” Ialacci said. “The democratic process is sort of, to me, the single most important thing we have as Americans.”
Working at Hamilton High School East, Ialacci said volunteering at the polls has been a pleasant experience. She has been able to assist voters this year who need help or do not understand the new voting guidelines. By making them feel comfortable, she said she is able to “let them have a dignified way to vote without feeling like they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Ialacci sees her participation as a way to give every eligible person in her township the chance to vote.
“There’s reports out there of voter suppression and voter intimidation, and I want to make sure that I’m in a place where anybody who comes here is free to cast their ballot regardless of who it’s for; they all deserve that.”
Ialacci said she has yet to miss voting in an election.
“[Voting is] the one thing that as Americans is fair and equal across the board,” Ialacci said. “Every single American that’s eligible has the same exact vote as anybody else. My vote matters because of the people who I tell that I voted, especially the young people in my life. For them to see me voting or hear that I’m voting, and especially for them to see that I’m working here today, it gives them, hopefully, the example to know that they can do the same.”
William Bradley, 22, a warehouse worker in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, was inspired by his uncle, who previously worked at New York’s Board of Elections, to volunteer as a poll worker this year.
“I personally am someone who always likes to help out people in need and part of me thought, well, with the way things are going with election campaigns right now, people need to know that there’s a safe option to vote in this election,” Bradley said. “Whether you bring in a mail-in ballot here or if you fill out a provisional ballot here, I would hope that people know it’s a safe means to vote.”
The polling locations offer people a safe and accessible way to vote, with machines for voters with disabilities and voting options for last-minute voters. Addressing COVID-19 health risks, Bradley said his location has been safe in terms of cleanliness and COVID-19 precautions.
During his experiences on Election Day, Bradley has been able to see how a wide range of people from different demographics come out to vote in his community, which he said is important for the election.
“Regardless of how you personally feel about either candidate, [voting is] how you share your voice,” he said. “It’s how you voice what you think according to any research or just how you feel. It’s important to vote because it’s you saying your piece.”
The 2020 election is Francesca Bottini’s first presidential election, and since she mailed in her ballot this year, Bottini thought that volunteering at the polls in person would help her feel more involved in her first election and in her community.
Bottini, a junior at Drexel University, is taking classes remotely from her home in Hamilton Township, New Jersey this semester, which has given her more of an opportunity to get involved in the election. She said she sees her participation as a way to offer “a friendly face and help people feel more comfortable in an otherwise very tense and stressful election.”
Having never voted before, Bottini did not realize how much work occurred at the polling sites until she attended the volunteer training.
“There’s a lot more that goes into it than I realized,” she said after “seeing just how much information you have to know about provisional ballots, how to work the machines, and making sure you’re doing everything correctly because it is such an important process to make sure it’s valid now.”
Bottini said that a majority of the poll workers are first-time volunteers at the Hamilton High School East polling site, which speaks to the fact that many people want to be more involved in what will likely be a “historic” election year.
“It does feel crazy to think that this is one of those elections that like people might read about in history books in like 30 years and being like ‘Oh my God, this was insane,’ and me be like, ‘I voted in that.’”