Your republic needs you.
Our system of government stands on a foundation of citizens electing representatives to make decisions on their behalf on the city council, the Legislature and in Congress.
But the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to elections like nothing else in our nation’s history.
In Janesville, the city needs at least 200 poll workers to help people cast their ballots and tally the results, said Dave Godek, city clerk-treasurer.
Godek isn’t sure where he’s going to find them.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” Godek said.
Most poll workers are elderly and especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
“They’re following advice to protect themselves,” Godek said.
How can the rest of us help? Here are some ideas.
Volunteer to be a poll worker
The pay is $105 for the day. It’s a long day—typically 15 or 16 hours starting at 6 a.m.—but you can sign up for a half day.
Here’s a bonus: You get food. Before COVID-19, poll workers organized potluck meals for workers at their locations. For the August primary, the city bought food from local restaurants to feed poll workers “so we wouldn’t have to worry about sharing food.”
Training takes about an hour and can be done online or by watching a recording on JATV cable-access television.
Sign up your students
“Usually, we pick up 40 or 50 kids,” Godek said.
He might need more this time around.
Rules set by the state dictate student poll workers be at least 16 years old, have grade-point averages of at least 3.0 and get permission from their principals and their parents.
“Kids love it,” Godek said. “They learn a lot about how elections work.”
But the pandemic might give some parents pause about sending their children to polling places.
As was done in the April and August elections, Godek said, poll workers will be provided KN95 masks. Masks will be available for voters. Clear plastic barriers will separate voters from workers. Hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer will be available, and the polling locations will be disinfected hourly.
Also, the number of people voting in person is expected to be down. Godek said many poll workers will be helping process an expected 25,000 absentee ballots.
When we suggested people might be willing to donate toward meals for poll workers, Godek said that hadn’t occurred to him.
“If people wanted to send a donation so that we could purchase lunch or dinner for the poll workers, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that,” Godek said.
Money can be sent to the clerk/treasurer’s office with a note indicating it is for feeding poll workers.
Mostly, Godek needs people.
“I can’t hold an election with just my staff. There’s eight of us. We can’t do it. We rely on citizens and residents to allow everybody to exercise their freedom to vote. It’s something we take seriously, and we certainly are always looking for help,” he said.
And staffing the polls with a spectrum of volunteers from across the community not only makes the elections work, it makes the elections secure.
“It’s really, really hard to commit election fraud in this state and impact the outcome. We’re so decentralized. You would need so many people involved in it to impact how something happens,” Godek said.
“It’s one more thing that really does help … and gives people comfort that the process that we follow is fair and is going to be done the right way.”