By: Dr. Jeffrey Freedman  | 

Why I Volunteered to Be a Poll Worker on Election Day

Presidential elections in the U.S. occur every four years, but this is no ordinary election. It is taking place in the middle of a pandemic and against the backdrop of several major efforts at voter suppression by officials affiliated with the Republican Party. We’ve witnessed, in Georgia, the purging of voter rolls; in Texas, the reduction of drop-off sites for mail-in ballots to just one per county; and, in Wisconsin, a legal challenge by the state’s Republican Party — upheld yesterday by the Supreme Court — to a ruling that would have allowed the counting of mail-in ballots postmarked before election day and received up to six days afterward. Meanwhile, the president himself is trying to undermine confidence in the election and rather openly encouraging the intervention of heavily armed right-wing militias (“stand back and stand by”) such as the one that occupied the gallery of the Michigan statehouse in April. In the light of such developments, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that American democracy is hanging by a slender thread.

What is a concerned citizen to do? One way to counter the president’s repeated efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election is to vote in person. In order to maintain polling stations, however, we need poll workers, who are in short supply this year because of COVID-19. Poll workers tend to be older and as such are more vulnerable to the risks of contagion. This combination of circumstances prompted me to volunteer: I’ll be working the scanning machine at my local polling station in New York on Election Day this Tuesday.

On a normal Tuesday, I’d be teaching classes at both Stern and Yeshiva College — one class on The Enlightenment, the other on the history of Media Revolutions. I will not be holding those class meetings on Tuesday. Instead, I will prerecord and post lectures on Canvas. It’s my hope that this small disruption of our normal routine may serve to remind students of the importance of exercising our voting rights as a lynchpin of our democracy. 

Earlier this year we lost John Lewis, a congressman from Georgia, who, in his youth, had participated with Dr. Martin Luther King in the struggle to extend voting rights to disfranchised populations. It is a bitter irony that precisely in the year of his death, the accomplishments of his life’s work are under renewed threat. I can think of no better way to honor his memory than by affirming our belief in the value of an inclusive democracy. 

Dr. Freedman is a professor of history at Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women.

Photo Caption: One way to counter the President’s repeated efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election is to vote in person.
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