Civic duty energizes Chatom poll workers
On March 24, 2022, the day of the primary election, Chatom was abuzz with excitement as citizens wished their lifelong friends good luck at the polls. Wyatt Burton, a first-time poll worker, said that the citizens of Washington County get more motivated to fulfill their civic duty as they get older.
That’s not to say that the younger citizens of Chatom aren’t active as well. Three high school students, Braxton Welborn, Estella Becton, and Wyatt Burton said they loved volunteering at the polls during the recent election. These three students are all rising seniors at their high schools, volunteers at the library, and individuals involved in many other extracurricular activities such as student council and helping at their church.
Everyone working at the polls seemed to share a love for volunteering. Some seasoned poll workers who have been working elections for decades, Janie Stephens and Virginia Traylor, are involved at their churches, the library, and in many other local projects. According to Stephens, the day goes by quickly as you work, and everyone is so excited to be there that they sometimes must be reminded not to chat too much.
Some poll workers said they were inspired by their local educators. “My first time working, my principal was in charge,” Stephens said. Becton and Welborn both have teachers as mothers.
Becton said she was excited to meet new people at the polls and be a friendly smiling face to all. She said the day was a really good experience and even simpler than she expected. She said that, in her opinion, being friendly was one of the qualifications to work the polls.
The probate judge is the chief election official for Washington County. The circuit clerk and the sheriff are the points of authority for the poll workers. They receive names from either political party, appoint workers, and then schedule a polling school. At each polling place, a chief inspector serves as the supervisor over the poll workers.
Micki Savage, the chief inspector at Leroy Fire Station Precinct 15, said she is proud to serve in this serious role. It should be remembered, she said, that many people have died to protect the right to vote. Savage said voter education is also a vital part of the process. During her most recent day at the poll, some people didn’t even know they had to be registered to vote.
A commonality between most of the volunteers and poll workers is that their first experience at the polls was with their parents. Some went to the polls to witness their parents voting even as young as age 5. Savage said that her mother was a poll worker back in the 1970s. “I watched her do her civic duty, and that inspired me to be a poll worker,” she said.
At the core, civic duty is rooted in the desire to help others. Welborn said that poll workers are “just people who want to help and give back” indicating interest in serving fellow citizens is just as strong as the interest in politics.
Traylor has been working the polls for about 50 years off and on. She recently helped with absentee ballots. While counting absentee ballots, she and four other workers make sure affidavits are filled out correctly and load them individually. She became a poll worker after being recommended by a neighbor.
Traylor said her inspiration for getting involved was that she was excited to be a part of the process that helps citizens’ voices be heard. Unlike those who had been exposed to the process as children, her first time going to the polls was as an adult. During her first-time voting, there were still voting tests designed to make voting harder for African Americans. She is still active now because being represented in the process is a priority for her.
Traylor said that citizens in her area are more concerned with national politics. One change she witnessed over the decades is that, in the past, politicians would come to speak at political rallies more often, making the process more personal. Now, with the rise of social media, those aren’t as popular anymore, and people running campaigns typically just leave a note on your door.
Whether young or old, election days matter in Washington County, both to the voters and to the poll workers and volunteers who ensure a smooth process. “I plan to continue to volunteer and vote every chance I get,” teen volunteer Wyatt Burton said.