Poll Workers

Laura Graham, 44, checks in voters as they arrive at the Washington County Courthouse to early vote Oct. 23. Many poll workers volunteer hours of their time to serve their community in the days before the election. // Heidi Kirk // Staff Photographer

Seven years ago she was preparing to vote for the first time and was at the beginning of her journey as a U.S. citizen. Today, Zoe Naylor is helping others complete their civic duty.

Naylor, a native of Australia and now a UA political science instructor, was inspired to learn how voting worked since she had no idea how U.S. elections were carried out.

“It’s a civic duty at least,” Naylor said. “I think that we’re living in a democracy where having fair and free elections is really important to continue in having a successful democratic society.”

Naylor, originally from Australia, wasn’t a citizen or allowed to vote until seven years ago. She said she had no idea how U.S. elections worked, so she volunteered to learn more and continued working after discovering a passion for it.

“When you’re just an average voter, you don’t necessarily know exactly how the county does it,” Naylor said. “So, the first year I did it, I was just kind of learning how the town did it. I really enjoyed it, so I just kept doing it.”

Naylor is a supervisor of volunteers this year at a polling site on Sang Avenue in Fayetteville during Election Day but helped with early voting at the Washington County Courthouse.

Since the start of early voting on Oct. 19, polling sites have seen a significant number of voters come through their doors. Bud Walton Arena, a first time early voting center, had approximately 2,691 voters between Oct. 22-24, Associated Student Government President Julia Nall said.

As of Monday afternoon, there have been 854,405 early votes counted, according to information from the Arkansas Secretary of State's office.

Matthew Tribble was one of several ASG members to volunteer at Bud Walton Arena during early voting. Their primary role was to help voters fill out change-of-address forms so that election officials could process them faster.

“It’s especially important to dedicate some time to ensuring that people’s voices are heard and votes are counting,” Tribble said. “So, that’s my main reason behind volunteering.”

ASG volunteers were not the only ones stepping up to volunteer in Northwest Arkansas. Kourtney Thompson, a freshman, said her inspiration for volunteering at polling sites in her hometown comes from her time in high school.

“I’m very passionate about politics and elections,” Thompson said. “In high school they let high schoolers volunteer in the primary elections, so that was really cool.”

Thompson is registered to vote in Benton County, which means she can only serve in that county. She worked for a few days in Bentonville during early voting and plans to work as a poll worker on Election Day in Lowell, Thompson said.

Some polling sites have restrictions this year and one of these restrictions include voters not being required to wear masks. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that voters cannot be turned away if they do not have a face covering because it could limit their right to vote.

When Thompson was being trained to work at the polls, she was not aware that voters are not required to wear masks. Even though she fears getting COVID-19, she thinks the polling sites are taking necessary steps to protect both their voters and staff.

“If someone walks in without a mask and you said, ‘Oh, you can’t vote,’ it’s considered a roadblock to voting,” Thompson said.

At polling sites across the country, voters are recommended to socially distance and are given a stylus to use to reduce contact between workers and voters. Voters also handle their own ballots and are separated by plastic barriers to prevent the spread of the disease.

Naylor said she thinks it’s important for the younger generation to work at the polls this year, as the older generation is at higher risk for COVID-19.

“A lot of people who used to work the election are retired or fairly older in age and this year, we’ve had an overwhelming response of younger people volunteering which is really great,” Naylor said.

Early voting in Washington County has had an overwhelming response, Naylor said. She thinks exercising the right to vote gives everyone a chance to have a say in what direction society is going.

“I would like to encourage everyone to go out and vote,” Naylor said. “I think it’s great that people are taking on this civic duty as someone who has not always been able to vote in the country.”

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