Meet the essential (poll) workers who make elections possible

‘They’re not political operatives; they’re just citizens,’ says Duval County chief elections supervisor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the most integral parts of a democratic government is open and fair elections -- and a key to making those elections function is poll workers.

News4JAX met some of the volunteers stepping up to be trained as poll workers for the November midterm elections -- despite the recent backlash election workers across the country have faced.

One of the most integral parts of a democratic government is open and fair elections -- and a key to making those elections function is poll workers. (WJXT)

“For the most part, it seems safe and simple,” first-time poll worker Kia Rawls said. “We have like, we have security on site and stuff like that if things were to get out of hand, so everything seems covered. So it seems simple enough. I definitely recommend it for other people.”

During the training class, the rules were laid out and it was stressed time and time again that each worker should not show any favor to any side. The goal is to make sure voters get to cast their ballots in the easiest way possible.

Those taking part are sworn in to uphold all election laws. It’s a vow some, like Arron Jacobs and Joe Revis, have taken for years.

Jacobs is a 12-year veteran of elections work.

“I’ve had minor problems at the site, but nothing that would deter me from doing it,” Jacobs said. “I’ve had problems at the grocery store, but I still go.”

Voters take part in an election in Northeast Florida. (WJXT)

Revis has been a poll worker for three years.

“It’s very cordial, at least in the last couple of years, even in spite of what you might see in other parts of the country,” Revis said.

Brenda Williams works inside the polls as an inspector.

“Many pains are taken to try to be sure everybody gets to vote and they get to voice their opinion,” Williams said, explaining that she’s not concerned about critics of the process.

Those who oversee what’s going on, like Duval County Chief Elections Supervisor Robert Phillips, say it’s these workers who make elections work.

Duval County Chief Elections Supervisor Robert Phillips (WJXT)

“These poll workers, these people that are there when you go to the poll and you sign in, they’re your neighbors, they’re the people you go to the store with and people you go to church with,” Phillips said. “They’re not political operatives. They’re just citizens. And if they weren’t doing what they were doing, you wouldn’t be able to go vote in person.”

Phillips himself first started working at the old elections warehouse, fixing the voting machines more than 30 years ago -- and now he’s No. 2 at the elections office, overseeing the work of over 2,000 poll workers.

“I could almost not imagine going through a fall and not having an election cycle. My kids, even know like on even-numbered years, we don’t get to go to football games, we don’t get to go to Halloween Horror Nights or theme parks,” Phillips said. “We plan everything in odd-numbered years just because of, you know, just it’s been my entire life.”

Phillips has seen a lot when it comes to local elections. He was there in 2000 when there were hanging chads and questions about ballots in Florida, but his goal is to let people know they can participate and observe the process in many ways. Of course by voting, but also by getting involved at the polls.

Poll workers are sworn to uphold all election laws. (WJXT)

“We always try to say transparency is one of our core values. Anybody wants anything, they want to know anything, they’re always welcome to come down here, they can observe the process. I give a lot of talks to groups that do distrust the process and one of the things I tried to do is encourage them to actually become a poll worker, then they can become part of the process. And that has shown some benefits lately,” Phillips said.

As for Phillips, his name might not sound familiar because he has not run for the office of supervisor of elections -- at least not yet.

“I don’t care about the glory,” he said. “I want the office to be successful.”

And when midterm election day rolls around in less than two months, Phillips and many other election workers will be behind the scenes -- and greeting you at the door -- trying to make sure it goes smoothly and that your vote is counted.

What you need to know

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan chatted with us on The Morning Show on Thursday about what voters can expect for the mid-term elections and some important reminders as deadlines approach.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan joins us to discuss steps you should take ahead of time before you go out to vote.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.