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'You're Just Here to Help People:' A Day in the Life of Poll Workers

By  Allegra Hobbs and Dartunorro Clark | November 8, 2016 3:11pm 

 Poll Coordinator Brenda Anderson, left, helps voters at the Drew-Hamilton Houses, located at 200 W. 143rd St.
Poll Coordinator Brenda Anderson, left, helps voters at the Drew-Hamilton Houses, located at 200 W. 143rd St.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

MANHATTAN — Donna Gill, 59, of Harlem, has been offering her services as a poll worker throughout New York City since she was 18.

She was posted outside P.S. 63 in the East Village, on East 2nd Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, helping direct elderly and disabled voters as an Accessibility Clerk on Election Day.

"We help people with disabilities — we make sure that there’s a ramp, make sure that there’s a way for them to get in, make sure the signs are where they can see it,” she said.

Every election, poll workers are assigned to a polling place by the Board of Elections and their assigned station has nothing to do with what neighborhood the worker lives in.

Despite their diligent efforts to make sure polling sites run smoothly, many don’t vote in-person.

Brenda Anderson, a poll coordinator at the Drew-Hamilton Houses at 200 W. 143rd St, said she has been working as a poll worker at various sites throughout the city since 2008.

This year, however, she said she had to file an absentee ballot despite her voting place being a few blocks away at Esplanade Gardens.

As a coordinator she has to stay at the site to make sure any hiccups are quickly fixed.

Many poll workers begin their day very early and end a little after 9 p.m., when polls close, which makes it hard to leave.

“When I was an inspector I used to be able to vote,” Anderson said, because she moved from site to site.

Jean Goldsmith, a poll site coordinator at Esplanade Gardens in Central Harlem at 2569 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd., said she lucked out because she lives at the housing complex.

Gill’s day began at 4 a.m., when she awoke to make her way to a Board of Elections site in Chelsea to receive her post assignment. She arrived at P.S. 63 around 8 a.m. and will stay until after the polls close at 9 p.m. 

She and her fellow accessibility clerks are also on hand to help anyone who may need assistance filling out their ballot — a job that is about more than just accessibility, she explained, but is an opportunity to make an impression on voters by making the democratic process easy and enjoyable.

"People need to know, they need to understand and they need assistance — not everyone speaks the language and not everyone understands the process,” she explained. "And you’re just here to help people. Part of why I do it is, I get to talk to everybody and say hi, and be nice, and smile, so that they’ll come back again."

She was also given an absentee ballot so that she could cast her vote within her district in Harlem while working all day in the East Village. She said the process was simple and had not been a hassle. 

Gill was joined by Harlem resident Anthony Worrell, who said he first became a poll worker during the last election four years ago and hopes his presence makes a difference to voters.

“I hope I can help those who don’t understand the process of voting, and I hope we can make it more accessible,” he said.