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2020 Election Presents Unique Opportunity For Student Poll Workers

The 2020 election was an opportunity for many students to fulfill their civic duty for the first time. After all, more than 77,000 Centre County voters cast their ballots just last week.

Others, though, took it a step further and volunteered their time to become poll workers. One of those people was Penn State junior Sam Dougherty.

When Dougherty checked her voter registration and saw the application to become a poll worker, she knew that this was something she wanted to do ever since coming to Penn State. After all, she is a political science major.

Poll workers are essential to the voting process. They’re required for elections to not only be successful, but to simply happen at every level. Poll workers are trained to be careful and accurate to ensure a completely fair election.

Dougherty’s application was quickly accepted, and she began her training. After a one and a half-hour long Zoom session with the Centre County Board of Elections, Dougherty and other registered voters completed their training to become poll workers. The practice included different scenarios that could happen throughout Election Day.

Drew Johnston-Walsh (left) and Sam Dougherty (right) on Election Day at the Bryce Jordan Center

“We learned what to do if someone requested a mail-in ballot but never received it, or wanted to surrender it in order to vote in person, and other important questions like that,” Dougherty said. “They also went over how the different ballot-counting machines work and how accuracy is crucial to the integrity of the process.”

Dougherty worked at the Bryce Jordan Center with other poll workers. Although Pennsylvania polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. on Election Day, she was at her station for nearly 16 hours from 6 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Students lined up outside the arena in cold temperatures to cast their ballots. Dougherty says that it was so exciting to see democracy in action, even if it meant waiting.

“I absolutely loved the experience,” Dougherty said. “As soon as the doors opened, students flooded in to vote and the lines were about an hour-long at that point. Everything was fast-paced.”

Later in the day when the lines died down, Dougherty had the opportunity to engage in interesting conversations with the other poll workers who were just as interested in politics as she was. Her biggest takeaway from the day was that being a poll worker is a great way to do your part.

“I really cared about the outcome of this crucial election, and being a poll worker made me feel as though I was doing everything that I could to help,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty added she’d tell anyone considering being a poll worker to “go for it.” Poll workers get to be up close and personal with the democratic process. She also said that you’d meet many people that are just as passionate about politics as you are.

“I sat next to a woman who worked for Penn State and was a great resource for my major. She gave me contact information and really helpful advice so you never know what could come of participating in an election,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty believes that she would consider being a poll worker again. With her knowledge in political science and desire to engage in her civic duty, she knows that this won’t be her last involvement with Election Day.

“The day was very long day but felt so short. It was worth every minute,” Dougherty said.

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About the Author

Hope Damato

Hope is a 2022 graduate who majored in broadcast journalism and was one of Onward State's social media editors. She resides in her parents house as she is still on the job hunt. Someone please hire her. Feel free to follow her on twitter @hopemarinaa to send her funny tweets or email her at [email protected] to yell.

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