This week’s Homegrown Hero is John Meehan, Volunteer Poll Worker. This past week we caught up with him to know more about his story, and what he has experienced since the pandemic started. We thank John for all his efforts and for inspiring our club with his acts.
How did you start running the polls?
About five years ago, I got a letter in the mail from the Essex County Board of Elections asking me if I’d liked to be a poll worker. How they got my name or anything I have no idea! I don't know, but I said sure, and then they send you all this stuff to set you up. And they ask you, like are you bilingual? You fill it out, and they assign you to a polling area. Apparently they deliberately tried to assign you to a place near your home, but I agree to do it anywhere in the county, but they sent me right down the street from my house, which I thought was great. It's a lot of fun. It sounds like work, but it's a break from the regular job that you might have, and you really do get to help a lot of people, especially new voters who have never voted before, you get to show them what to do. Everybody's so happy, they thank you a million times for helping them.
This one woman came in and she spoke broken English, and she wasn't registered to vote. We couldn't find her anywhere on the scrolls, and the reason was, she had just recently become a U.S. Citizen, so she thought, “When I become a citizen, I'm automatically registered to vote,” which is not the case. We got her registered. There were like 10 poll workers in the room, we all gave her a standing ovation for being a citizen. She left happy; she's not gonna miss one election I can just tell you.
How does voting affect the community?
I think it definitely affects the community. It brings people together. If you're civic minded, if you care enough to vote, you're gonna care about your community and about current events and what goes on in the world around you. People care if they show up to vote, that means they have to get up from their house, they have to deliberately go to the polling place, and do it constantly.
How will Election Day look like in your polling location?
On Election Day, it's gonna be a 14-hour day for the election workers. Polls open early in the morning, you have to be there at 5:30 a.m. to set up, you have to open the voting machines and print out all this stuff and make sure everything says zero on it, and then you have to hang up all the signs like “Vote Here,” “Keep Your Distance.” When you close the polls, you have to stay a little bit late to print out all the results and everything, all the challengers come in, and people from the Board of Elections. We have two desks, where I am at currently, there are three districts, three voting districts combined into one because geographically they're all within a few blocks of each other, a lot of people live around here, so instead of dividing it into three separate places for many many years now, we've combined it into three. I like to meet everybody at the door, I think that's good. I ask them, “What’s their address?” Because if I know what street they live on, I can direct them to what district table to go to.