Thursday, February 29

Undaunted by 2020, Georgia election workers return to the polls

Menorca Collazo, 48, also said tense encounters with voters haven’t been particularly common. But when it happens, she’s prepared, thanks to 24 hours of training she completed, in-person and online, ahead of her stint this year as a poll manager at Buford City Hall—her first time in that position.

She first began volunteering for elections when she was in college in Massachusetts, summarizing her service in Georgia in 2020. As the poll manager this year, she oversaw a team of greeters (called non-issuing clerks in Georgia) and staff assisting with checking identification and making sure voters are at the correct polling location (called issuing clerks).

Her training this year incorporated all the changes introduced by the state’s new voting law.

“Some people don’t like it, but we are here as public servants. We don’t make the rules. Actually it’s the opposite. The rules are made as a product of the vote,” she said.

Despite the chaotic aftermath of 2020 in her state, Menorca said she was motivated to continue as an election worker out of a sense of civic duty. A native of Puerto Rico, she described her de ella “pride” and “passion” in “doing something that helps people not take the right to vote for granted.”

“It’s not a political thing for me. It’s a civil liberty that a lot of people take for granted. For me, it’s about playing a role in making sure people have their rights and that people are educated,” she said.

Her training also touched on “how to deal with possible conflicts and problems and conflict resolution techniques.” Fortunately, Collazo’s 15-hour shift was entirely free of dispute.

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Menorca Collazo, 48, at Buford City Hall, who has been a poll worker for several years, in Buford, Ga., on May 24, 2022.Lynsey Weatherspoon for NBC News

That wasn’t the case last week, however, for Laura Michelle, a poll manager at the Bogan Community Center, in Buford, during an early voting window at that location.

A poll watcher — someone, often at the behest of a candidate or political party, who is allowed to observe the goings-on at polling locations to protect against election law violations — took offense to a procedural issue and told Michelle he found it to be proof of his belief that the 2020 election had been stolen from Trump.

“I defused the situation. We had a quick little talk about his rights and we resolved it, ”she said. “When someone comes at me, I deal with it the way I have been trained to.”

Do these types of incidents get frustrating? “We are literally here to make sure the vote is secure for everyone. It might be the case that some poll watchers don’t understand the process,” she responded. “I just hope they see that I’m only here to secure their vote.”

‘Trying to meet the moment’

A rapidly growing and diversifying suburb of Atlanta, Gwinnett County — the second most populous in the state — has trended blue in statewide and national elections. After being reliably red for decades, Hillary Clinton flipped it in 2016 and in 2020 Biden won 58 percent of the vote (compared with 40 percent for Trump). That year, however, elections in June, as well as early voting during October, were plagued by problems including long waits and lines.

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Manifold’s primary focus since he started his job 10 months ago has been voter education, he said.

He has expanded his office’s outreach unit, with new staff focusing on voter education and regularly attending community forums and mailing materials to residents to explain the new rules regarding voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, as well as other changes, that were mandated by the new voting law. Materials are mailed in five languages ​​— English, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean — so all voters in the increasingly diverse county have a chance to make the necessary changes. In 2012, the county’s office of elections had 10 full-time employees. Now it has 42.

“We’re really trying to meet the moment,” Manifold said.

As for election denying critics, many election workers interviewed had some advice: the best remedy for them would be to get involved in elections themselves.

“With all the information out there about the ‘Big Lie,’ it’s so important people see that there is a lot of integrity, reverence and security in the process,” said LaTina Lewis, a volunteer clerk at Buford City Hall. “You see it when you’re part of it.”

Voters cast their ballots at Buford City Hall in Buford, Ga., on May 24, 2022.
Voters cast their ballots at Buford City Hall in Buford, Georgia, on May 24, 2022.Lynsey Weatherspoon for NBC News

Collazo, the poll manager at Buford City Hall, also encouraged people to move on and get involved.

“That election is over. We certified that choice. We are moving forward. We have made enhancements. We are trying to make it better and want people to feel confident about the voting process and the experience,” she said.

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“If people continue to have doubts, hopefully that can be a way for them to become involved themselves,” she said.

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