Answering the call: Poll workers ready to go

  • Joanne Perrier works at the polls for early voting in Southampton last week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joanne Perrier works the Southampton early voting polls Wednesday, October 28, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kris Vinci, a poll worker, process early voters ballots in Easthampton on Wednesday, October 28, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Volunteer poll workers in Easthampton, from left, Beverly Wodicka, Audrey Hyvonen and Ray Spaulding process early voters’ ballots last week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Poll workers Annette Szczygiel, left, and Kris Vinci process early voters’ ballots in Easthampton last week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joanne Perrier hands James Griffin his ballot while working the Southampton early voting polls Wednesday, October 28, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara LaBombard, the city clerk in Easthampton, says more people offered to work at the polls this election than she could train. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2020 7:39:45 PM

EASTHAMPTON —  Sadie Bromberg isn’t old enough to vote for president, but like many of her peers, the Easthampton High School senior knows how important voting is. That’s why she’ll spend time on Election Day helping to make sure others can successfully exercise their franchise.

“It feels important to do your civic duty,” said Bromberg, 17, last Thursday, on why she’s volunteering.

And although she wasn’t able to help out with early voting because of school obligations, Nov. 3 won’t be the first election she’ll have worked this year.

 “I worked in both the special election and the primary this past year,” she said.

Bromberg’s enthusiasm for helping at the polls rubbed off on her mother, Audrey Hyvonen, who was so inspired by her daughter that she chose to volunteer as a poll worker in Easthampton this fall. Hyvonen also heard rumors that elderly poll workers wouldn’t be volunteering because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it’s true that some poll workers are sitting this election out, fears earlier this year that there would be a dearth of poll workers proved unfounded thanks in part to a campaign blitz by the Secretary of State’s office calling on volunteers to fill the expected void. And the communities reached out to by the Gazette report that they have had no problem finding people willing to work to ensure that Election Day goes off without a hitch.

Barbara LaBombard, Easthampton’s city clerk, said that most of the city’s approximately 60 poll workers have volunteered with the city beforehand. “Most of my regular workers were able to work,” she said.

She also said that they received a lot of volunteer offers this year.

“We were inundated with volunteers,” she said. “It almost got to a point where there was too many.”

Those volunteering at the polls in Easthampton are paid from $12.75 to $15.75 per hour depending on responsibilities, although some choose not to be paid, LaBombard said.

One of the new volunteers in Easthampton is Kris Vinci, who spoke last Wednesday as she helped tabulate votes.

Vinci said that she’d always wanted to volunteer, but wasn’t able to while working as a nurse.

“I just felt like I wanted to get out and do something,” she said, on why she’s volunteering now.

Northampton City Clerk Pamela Powers said that about half of the city’s regular crop of poll workers chose not to volunteer this year because of COVID-19 concerns.

“I was worried about that in the beginning,” said Powers.

However, as in Easthampton, the public came through.

“We have way too many applicants and not enough spots to fill them,” Powers said.

In Northampton, poll workers are paid $12.75 to $20 an hour depending on their responsibilities, and Powers said that about 250 are working this year, doing duties that range from cleaning to serving as election wardens.

At one time in his life, Dennis Helmus helped to supervise elections as assistant town clerk in Greenfield. Now retired, Helmus has volunteered as a poll worker in Northampton for about three years. He’s currently the election warden for Ward 3B.

Helmus said that a lot of poll workers are at risk for COVID-19, but are choosing to volunteer because they believe in “our democratic process.”

“It’s really a labor of love that people have for their country,” Helmus said.

He also said that no matter what their political persuasion, poll workers are committed to everybody having their vote count.

Like Northampton, a number of poll workers in Southampton opted out of this election, only to be replaced by many new volunteers.

Town Clerk Luci Dalton said that 10 to 12 people are serving as poll workers in the town. All workers are paid $12 an hour, with the exception of the warden, who is paid $12.50 an hour.

Joanne Perrier has volunteered as a poll worker in Southampton for several years. “I had nothing else to do,” said Perrier, on why she chose to volunteer again this year. “I’m retired and I have the time.”

She said her favorite part of being a poll worker is the people.

Holyoke City Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee said that about a dozen people weren’t comfortable working as poll workers this year in the city. However, the city was still able to get the volunteers it needs.

“We ended up getting quite a few new poll workers,” said McGee. “Seems like a lot of people wanted to just step up and help out.”

McGee said that poll workers are paid from $75 to $100 dollars a day in Holyoke, depending on duties, plus $25 hazard pay, although a few volunteers do choose not to be paid. She said that Holyoke has about 125 poll workers this election.

Maria Arivera, an election warden in Holyoke, has been working as a poll worker for about 10 years.

“I love it,” said Arivera. “I get to serve the people and all the people that I live around.”

In all four communities, health protections for poll workers include face masks, plexiglass barriers and sanitizer.

“We are running out of sanitizer by the minute because we are using it so much,” said Dalton, Southampton’s Town Clerk.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazet

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