Working at the Polls: My Personal Experience As a Volunteer

Student Life

While scrolling through TikTok in September, I came across one video advertising the job of a poll worker. Intrigued by the pay, I signed up and went about my day.

Then, in the middle of September, I received my assignments. I was to go to the four-hour-long training day, and then work on November 1 and 3 in 8 and 14-hour shifts. Yes, you read that right. 14 freaking hours. At first, I thought this was a typo. After all, at this point, I hadn't even done longer than a 5-hour shift at my normal workplace.

In the second week of October, I attended the training. It was incredibly boring, but I guess that's expected. There was a lot of information to process that I ultimately forgot (and didn't need).

The Emails

After my training, I started receiving automated training emails. The first couple of emails were helpful, so I watched the videos linked. However, they continued to send me these emails, and it became annoying and worrisome. There was so much information I was supposedly supposed to know. I became worried if I was even capable of doing such a clearly important job.

When it was closer to the dates I was working, I received an email that I was working on Friday, October 31. I mailed back that I wasn't scheduled to work that day. I received a simple “Thank you” email back, with no explanation as to why the leaders were misinformed or why I was receiving unnecessary emails.

The Waiting...

The first day I was working, I drove to the polling place (a park nearby) and signed in. I put on a face shield, the ridiculously bright green apron they provided us with, and gloves. With condensation forming on my face shield, I sat in a chair near the ballot box, which I was trained to use, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Slowly, people trickled in, but the times I wasn't occupied I went on my phone, which is hard to do when you have gloves on and your face shield that's dripping with condensation obstructs your view. Eventually, I had exhausted all the entertainment on my phone and resorted to just staring at nothing for hours.

My job at the ballot box was so simple that my presence could have been replaced with a well-made sign. It was such a waste of time to sit there for hours just going on my phone, and in the end, I was exhausted from doing absolutely nothing. My phone also died an hour before I was scheduled to leave, so I legitimately had nothing to do.

During my lunch break, I drove to a nearby restaurant, which would have been fine if it weren't for the fact that there were no parking spots left when I came back. Annoyed, I opted to (probably illegally) park in an apartment parking lot, and then, at my break, in the parking lot of a local elementary park. I feel like if you're going to have people to work for 8 hours, you should at least reserve them a parking spot. But, I got some delicious Mexican food and boba tea, so the day wasn't a total bust.

Election Day

The second day I was scheduled to work - aka Election Day - was the worst. I was a little more prepared that day because I had learned from my mistakes from the day before. I wasn't going to drive to get food. I was going to bring a book and a portable charger. And so I did. Yet, the day was even worse than the other one.

First, my lunch was scheduled for 11 am. This is an absurdly early lunch, but the worst part was that I walked all the way to the restaurant and back only to see that there were still parking spots available, so I could have driven anyway. I wasted 20 minutes of time walking there and back when I could have driven.

Second of all, I was scheduled to work from 7 am to 9 pm. By 4 pm, I was on the verge of collapsing. Luckily, I was able to leave early. But I feel awful for other teenagers who stayed until 9 pm.

Third, the poll leaders were being extremely nitpicky. Someone told me that I couldn't use my phone, even though another one told me I could. Then, they told me I couldn't put my water bottle near my station, or my bag. Um, so what am I supposed to do for 9 hours? Stare into space? Mentally list things that I could have done in the 9 hours I was working there? I had to wear my ugly apron, I had to sanitize every single stylus and secrecy sleeve that people used, I had to do this, I had to do that. The responsibilities were endless. When the leaders would come to check on us, they would be picky as well, pointing out everything you were doing wrong.

It was incredibly easy to make mistakes if you weren't watching everyone's every move. You had to pay extremely important attention. I don't know if you've worked for 9 straight hours, but I can tell you that it's hard to make yourself pay attention to every detail. So making mistakes was incredibly easy. This could have been avoided by just scheduling people in shorter shifts.


Overall, this experience was awful and I would not recommend volunteering or working for the polls, ever.

The small amount of money I would be receiving as well as the glimpse into democracy was 100% not worth it at all. If you want to make a little money or get some experience working, get a job or volunteer for a club. Because you aren't going to get anything out of working at the polls.

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Jane Park
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Jane Park is a 17 year old girl living in the Bay Area. She has a year of journalism experience and is a writer, editor and graphic designer for The Teen Magazine. In her free time, Jane paints, produces music and skateboards.