Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is poll woker Linda Boyd, as told to Kamille Whittaker.
One of the first things my mom had me do when I graduated from college was get registered to vote and sign up to work the election polls. I remember always going with her to vote. She made sure all her children—all nine of us—were exposed to the process.
I didn’t know a lot about politics beyond that, though. I once worked on a campaign for my college dorm mother, and I knew that [former Atlanta Mayor] Maynard Jackson was the commencement speaker at my graduation. I was extremely impressed—and in love—with him.
There were quite a few notable elections going on in 1981 once I graduated. Ambassador Andrew Young was running for mayor; Marvin Arrington Sr. was running for city council president. I was 24, and I volunteered to work with several campaigns, and then signed up to be a poll worker as well.
I currently live in East Point, but back then, I lived in Southwest Atlanta and over in Northwest Atlanta off what was called Hightower Road at the time—not far from Douglass High School.
When I began working the polls, I was blessed enough to be stationed at Salem Baptist Church, which was near where I lived on Baker Road, so I could just walk there. The team that was managing that precinct was a family—a grandmother, granddaughter, and grandson. The grandmother was already in her late ’70s and she was as efficient as could be. It was a joy to work with that family.
I’ve worked at numerous locations since then and shifted into early voting, where we work at a precinct for 21 days, three weeks prior to the actual election day. That has been a different kind of experience. It’s long hours; since I usually work in the capacity of an assistant poll manager, I’m there early at 6 a.m. The poll usually closes at seven, but it might be as late as eight or nine o’clock—whatever it takes to close everything down properly. Depending on the popularity or importance of the election, it can be as late as one or two in the morning.
I was working in a Buckhead precinct during Barack Obama’s second election when, not far from closing time, a man asked, Why are you here? Why are you in this precinct? Why aren’t you working where you live? I was astonished. Was he implying that people who looked like me don’t live in this area and don’t vote in the precinct? You just need to go where you live and be over there, he continued. There was still a long line. Everybody froze.
He felt like he was letting me have it. So I said, “Sir, you can go downtown and file a complaint and you can sign up to do this work yourself, but you’re not going to stand here and insult me for serving the community.” He turned red and stomped out the door.
I’ll never forget how it made me feel, but that incident was an outlier. Most times people are very warm, patient, and express gratitude. One said, My people fought for this right for me. It should take as long as you need to get it right for me to be able to do this correctly and legitimately. So, the passion comes from both ends; that includes the poll watchers.
The last election, in May, I was stationed at the High Museum. We had a line outside the door and down the walkway. One poll watcher was standing too close to where I was processing voter information. I felt uncomfortable and told her as much. Another poll watcher, a woman who lived in the area near Colony Square, had been observing us for three weeks. She took it upon herself to remind people in the line outside of the rules: phones away, talk quietly, no campaigning within 150 feet of the polling place, no political conversations. When I spoke with her later, she said she had observed how kind we were being with the public, and it inspired her to step up as a citizen. Poll watchers were not all looking for what we’re doing wrong. Some of them are looking and giving us props for what we may be doing right.
There have been so many changes to the voting process—some that I feel put limits on the public’s right to vote, like the fact that there are more ballot drop boxes on the north side of town than on the south side, or prohibitions on passing out blankets, water bottles, and chairs for the elderly in long lines. But at the end of the day, most of us are just trying to make this process go smoothly, one vote at a time.
This article appears in our November 2022 issue.