The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday April 13th

'Celebration of citizenship': Inside the life of an N.C. poll worker

Halfway down the hour-long line for voting outside the Carrboro Town Hall stands a tent where two poll workers, Dede Corvinus and Lori-Anne Shapiro, pass out sample ballots and offer insight while knitting and talking to each other. 

It’s a peaceful scene, one that Shapiro calls a "celebration of citizenship." Poll working is a job that both Corvinus and Shapiro take very seriously.

“I feel that it is very important for people to be involved," Corvinus said. "For the first time in my lifetime, I have fears for our democracy, and that means get involved."

The life of a poll worker

Rachel Raper, the director of elections for Orange County, said poll workers are critical to elections and complete a variety of roles during early voting and Election Day. 

“Poll workers are on the front line of democracy, and the experience voters have with poll workers shapes their opinions of elections and going to vote” she said. “I think being a poll worker is a great way to give back to the community and also to give back to democracy.”

Both Shapiro and Corvinus have been poll workers since 2016. 

Shapiro, in addition to working at the polls, is a phone banker and text banker — and in previous elections, she went door-to-door. She said she is a Democrat, a retired social worker and a proud Bostonian. 

She sees her job as a chance to assist people in understanding the voting process and the gravity of voting, but is adamant that she has no place in telling anyone who to vote for.

“I try to do my best in helping them understand that different people represent different ideas, have different ramifications for our lives, and that they can be pretty far reaching and critical ramifications,” Shapiro said.

She said the highlight of her job so far was helping inform a Burmese couple what the voting process would look like. 

As a social worker, she has spent her life helping people anticipate and understand the impacts of their actions. She said she sees similarities when she tells voters what their ballots will look like or how the voting process will work. She is heartened by the fact that so many people are coming out to vote, despite this year’s wait times.

“People are really coming out in numbers right now and they seem willing to wait in line,” Shapiro said.

Corvinus answers the questions of approaching voters while she knits a scarf in various shades of blue. She points people in the right direction to where they can drop off their mail-in ballots and is available to answer the questions of approaching voters. She also passes out sample ballots and collects used ones in a cardboard box. 

Shapiro said a poll worker's job is to be a resource to voters. 

“(Our job is) to be as hospitable as you can, put people at ease, assure people this is secure and safe site to voice their civic duty and responsibility and enjoy their rights and responsibilities of being citizens of this country," Shapiro said.

The impact of COVID-19

Because of the virus, the polling sites throughout Orange County are following safety protocols by maintaining social distancing, enforcing masks, limiting the number of people inside the polling site, disinfecting the voting sites between each use, not reusing sample ballots and putting up plastic barriers between voting stands. 

One poll worker's job is to sanitize the poll stations between every use. 

Corvinus said despite the pandemic, she still has found great joy interacting with voters.

“Seeing people get excited to vote is probably my most favorite part,” Corvinus said.

Trish Verne has been a poll worker for around 30 years, and began because her mom was a poll worker. 

She said when her parents took her to vote, it allowed her to see the process of voting, something that later inspired her to be a poll worker. However, she said in-person voter turnout at the Carrboro Town Hall this year has been different.

“Coronavirus is going to affect a lot of the folks who would possibly be here," Verne said. "A lot of people with disabilities who love to vote here because of easy access, I’m sure a lot of those folks will be keeping distance and so will be voting by mail."

She said she voted by mail, and this year, a lot more people are discovering alternate ways to voting in person. Her favorite part of the job is meeting all the people who show up to vote. 

Raper said Orange County has employed over 475 poll workers and has a waitlist with over 2,000 people. She said additional ways to get involved in the election include reaching out to a political party for a partisan role, or a nonpartisan organization such as the League of Women Voters. 

Shapiro said she wants people to recognize the gravity and privilege that comes with voting, and urged all voters to view voting with the seriousness it deserves.

“To take it seriously, to celebrate their citizenship, but really take seriously the consequences of the vote they cast,” Shapiro said.

For more information about voting, visit The Daily Tar Heel's Election Center

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