This article was featured in the May 2021 issue of Political Science Today, a new member magazine of the American Political Science Association. To read the full article in Political Science Today, click here.
Jacqueline Figueroa, Denison University
For the 2020 General Election I worked as a Machine Judge in Columbus, Ohio. My role consisted of preparing voters at the ballot marker machines so that they could make their choices and then cast their ballots at the ballot counters. I also assisted in setting up and cleaning up the machines, along with balancing the counts for the number of people who voted throughout the day in our polling location. In reflecting on my experience as a poll worker during this election, one incident stands out which underscored the accessibility barriers in the voting process. The incident included a voter who was deaf. Since it was my turn to assist the voter at the machines, I approached them and began speaking. The individual then signed to me that they were deaf. Since there was no one in my polling location that knew or understood sign language, it was difficult to let them know about the process, along with where they needed to go after marking their ballots in order to have their ballot casted.Since there was no one in my polling location that knew or understood sign language, it was difficult to let them know about the process, along with where they needed to go after marking their ballots in order to have their ballot casted.
Even though the ballot marker itself gives instructions after the ballot is opened on how to proceed, it is not necessarily clear on why I, as the poll worker, am doing what I am doing at the machine to process the voter, along with directing them to where they need to submit their ballot. I felt like this made the process less transparent for the voter, which is problematic especially at this time when many voters had not used the new machines that Ohio adopted in 2019. This issue underscored the lack of information and inclusion of individuals with many different disabilities in the voting process and how poll workers should deal with individuals that have a disability. The only training I received regarding how to attend to voters with disabilities was that we should only help them if they asked for it. Outside of that, they should be treated as a regular voter. Of course, we should not pathologize voters with disabilities, but that does not mean that we should not have the resources in place to better facilitate the spread of information through different means. I think an important first step would be to include at least one person who knows sign language at the location or having a designated tablet to have that direct communication with hearing-impaired voters.
The American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Electoral Assistance Task Force hosted an essay contest asking undergraduate students who served as election workers in polling places to submit brief essays reflecting on their experience.