Chris Line: Taking a day off at FFRF to work at the polls

Chris Line

By Chris Line

My alarm clock was set to go off at 5 a.m., but I woke up at 4:30. I ate a big breakfast, put on my mask, and headed out into the darkness. My polling place was only a couple blocks away, but during my short walk I couldn’t help but think about the importance of what I was about to do.

I have to admit that, embarrassingly, in 2008, the first year I was eligible to vote in the presidential election, I neglected my civic duty and I didn’t vote. I was in my first year of college and like most 18-year-olds, I didn’t understand the importance of elections and participating in our democracy. Since then, I have never missed an opportunity to be part of this important democratic process, one which many people have fought very hard to secure.

This year, due to FFRF’s generosity, I was able to go one step further and not only cast my vote, but to serve as a poll worker. Because FFRF generously offered a paid day off to those who worked the polls, it was an opportunity for me to earn some extra income while helping to ensure that our democracy runs smoothly. [FFRF’s bookkeeper Eleanor McEntee also spent the day as a poll worker.]

As a constitutional attorney, I felt well qualified to help ensure that every eligible voter was able to cast a ballot. I spent my entire 8-hour shift working at the polling table for same-day registrants. My job was to help everyone who registered at the polls verify their identify and cast a ballot. Unfortunately, because of the draconian voter ID laws in Wisconsin, I had to turn away some otherwise eligible voters. Luckily, those situations were rare and I was able to ensure the majority of voters who registered at my polling station were able to vote. The ward I worked at generated the most voters of any ward in Madison.

As we all know, the election took place during a pandemic, and I knew that it wouldn’t be without risk. But I am young and healthy and if not me, then who? Almost 60 percent of poll workers are over the age of 60. And although COVID-19 can affect people of any age, older people are particularly vulnerable, with about 80 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in the United States occurring in adults 65 and older. It was important for those like myself to step up and provide some relief. I felt safe during my shift, but afterwards I received an email informing me I may have been exposed to the virus. I took a COVID test a few days later and I tested negative.

As much as I love my job defending the separation of church and state and advocating on behalf of freethinkers, I am glad that I chose to take a break for a day in order to support our democracy by working at the polls, and I am grateful to FFRF for providing me with that opportunity.