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'I Don't Want Anyone To Stay Home': First-Time Poll Worker Excited To Help People Vote Safely

Stacy Revere
Getty Images
Poll workers prepared for voters at Riverside University High School on Aug. 11 in Milwaukee.

Despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and across the country, a record number of people cast their ballots for the general election. According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, more than 1.8 million people have already returned their ballots.

In April, early in the pandemic, some voters in Milwaukee waited in lines that stretched for blocks since the city condensed 180 polling locations to five. There was also a significant poll worker shortage. Most poll workers are typically older volunteers, but because older populations are more vulnerable to COVID-19, many dropped out due to fear.

Jonathan Zuniga, deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, says they are on track to train 2,200 new poll workers to return the city to a pre-pandemic number of polling places. Ruthie Weatherly is one of the first-time poll workers.

“I’m excited actually. They really kind of get you excited to be able to help other people to exercise that same right that you have to vote, so it was actually like a big morale boost,” says Weatherly.

She acknowledges that being around other people as COVID-19 cases continue to rise is always going to be a risk. But Weatherly feels that the city has done a good job of preparing poll workers and polling sites to be as safe as possible.

With President Trump urging supporters "to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Milwaukee poll workers are all being given explicit training on how to handle poll watchers and the process for removing anyone who is disturbing a polling place.

“The chief inspector is the ultimate point person at the polling place. And we are to address any concerns we have about any individuals not behaving properly to them and then they have the opportunity to either call the authorities or to remove those individuals and to act within the laws of the election,” she says.  

Above all else, Weatherly says it was important to her to be a poll worker so that she could help people feel comfortable voting during an uncomfortable time.

“I want them to be very confident that their voice was heard,” she says.

Teran Powell joined WUWM in the fall of 2017 as the station’s very first Eric Von Fellow.