Poll Workers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Poll workers are trustees of democracy

Perhaps we have been slow in Panola County to realize what’s been there all along — that the most important people in running a democracy are the poll workers who hold our elections.

Poll workers are charged with the front-line grunt work that allows us voters to cast our ballots. Once our ballot has been cast, we trust poll workers to care for our vote so that it will count the same as the next voter’s. Confidence that our vote will count equally with every other voter’s gives us a basis for trust in democracy.

That our confidence has been shaken in Panola County has been demonstrated during recent meetings of the county election commission and by reports from election observers sent by the Mississippi Secretary of State. Allegations of unethical activity by poll workers in some precincts have raised questions of fairness. If poll workers, who are given the responsibility of conducting fair elections, engage in activity that makes it appear that they are supporting one candidate over another, voters feel like their votes have been devalued.

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If voters arrive at a precinct and witness poll workers coaching voters to cast their ballot for one candidate over another, they become suspicious, and rightly so. If voters suspect that absentee and affidavit ballots are not being handled properly, they become suspicious and rightly so. If a voter arrives at a precinct to cast a ballot and finds that his or her name has already been marked as having voted, how can the voter not become suspicious that the entire election process has been compromised?

For a poll worker, the standard that you can get away with it, even if it is illegal, is not good enough. Nor is the standard high enough if it allows an election day activity that is legal, but unethical. For a poll worker, the standard should be that he or she conducts himself so that voters see no reason to suspect that he supports one candidate or platform over another. Period.

This country took a long and sometimes tortured path to get to, “One Man, One Vote.” Most recently — within the memory of many who will vote in next Tuesday’s election — Mississippi and Panola County were ground zero in the struggle to assure that the right to vote was extended to all citizens. People died in attempt to gain that right. Others suffered extended hardships, but the clear result of that long struggle eliminated skin color as a determinant of voter qualification.

When poll workers use their election day offices to promote a candidate or platform to unfair advantage, they dilute the worth of the votes cast for the opposing candidate or platform and make one person’s vote worth more than another’s. They compromise the trust we have placed in them and undermine faith in our democratic system. They dishonor the memories of those who so looked forward to voting as a privilege that they shed their blood to gain it.