On a chilly, quiet Tuesday afternoon in Williamsburg, with the temperature just below 55 degrees, a handful of people stood outside buildings, guiding voters to polling stations.
“We got here around 5 am, and we opened the polls at 6,” said Austin Smith, a poll worker at the PS 132 The Conselyea School polling site. “It’s really cold, but it’s been nice. There’s been a steady stream of people coming in and out but we haven’t really had a long line or anything.”
For many poll workers, this was their first time volunteering at a polling station.
“It’s my first year working at the polls,” said Alaina Goggin, a poll worker at the John Ericsson Middle School site. “And I’m basically just sitting outside, directing people, making sure they’re socially distanced, and telling them where to go.”
According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, more than two-thirds of poll workers during the 2018 election were over 61 years old, the same population that is most vulnerable to the complications of COVID-19.
“Historically, 55 percent of all New York’s poll workers are over the age of 60, making them especially vulnerable to the pandemic,” the New York State Board of Elections wrote in its hiring call for poll workers. “This has resulted in a significant need for poll workers who are willing and able to assist with the administration of in-person voting during the November 3rd general election.”
“They were trying to help the older people who typically run these things to stay home because of COVID,” said Matt Donnelly, a freelance writer who was at the PS 132 The Conselyea School polling site.“I have time to do it, so I figured why not help out.”
Donnelly and other younger volunteers are part of a national trend noted by the New York Times: “Tired of simply posting on social media,” the paper reported last month, “young people have volunteered in droves after many watched the chaotic primary election season shed light on the demand for new poll workers.”
It is estimated that there have been over 100 million early votes, and almost two-thirds of them came through mail-in ballots. Almost 50 times more people have completed early voting this year than in the 2016 election.
Many poll workers, such as Marco White, had already cast their ballot prior to election day. “It’s surprisingly slow,” White said of in-person voting at McCarren Play Center polling site in Williamsburg, “but I guess that’s because of all the early voting that has happened.”
Jamillah Carroll, who has been volunteering at election polls for over 10 years, is currently the coordinator for the McCarren Play Center voting site and is eager to see the results of this year’s elections. “I’m a mix of emotions,” Carroll said, opining that the election “could go either way.”
Although polls will close at 9 pm, voters who are waiting in line will still have the opportunity to vote.
“9pm is when the polls close, but we have to stay until when the last voter leaves,” Carroll said.