Younger volunteers help out at Election Day polls to ease strain of pandemic

  • Enfield Selectboard Chair Kate Stewart, left, and volunteers Angus Durocher, second from right, and Allison Flint, right, manage the line of voters and provide them with clean pens as they wait to cast ballots at the Enfield, N.H., Community Building Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mary Hansen, 33, of Enfield, was one of three ballot clerks who spent their day opening about 1,000 absentee ballots, pressing the folds, and putting them into a tabulating machine at the polls in Enfield, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2020 8:00:04 PM
Modified: 11/3/2020 7:59:55 PM

ENFIELD — John Grandi stood outside the Enfield Community Building on Tuesday, helping direct voters to the line of people corresponding with their last name.

The 32-year-old Enfield resident had taken a vacation day from his job at the Windsor County State Attorney’s Office to volunteer at the polls for the first time. In many Upper Valley communities, election volunteers and poll workers tend to be older adults. 

“I thought if I could do something to take the pressure off them to decrease their risk to the pandemic, it would be a good idea,” Grandi said around noon, a half-hour in to a 3½-hour shift. “It’s nice to take some time to give back where I can.”

Grandi was one of around 25 volunteers — almost all under the age of 60 — who raised their hands to help in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Town Moderator Lindsay Smith. In years past, Smith has relied on poll workers to run elections. After helping set up the Community Building on Sunday, Smith trained Grandi and other volunteers, many of whom were performing tasks Smith hasn’t had to deal with before, such as sanitizing voting booths.

“I was very lucky and fortunate that I did not have to recruit at all,” said Smith, 45. “People just wanted to help.”

Additionally, residents under 60 stepped up to be poll workers and fill in for older town officials who didn’t feel comfortable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tim Lenihan, chairman of the Enfield Zoning Board of Adjustment, was filling in for his mother, Selectboard member Meredith Smith. He also filled in for her during the primary, the first time he had taken part in election efforts.

“Today is phenomenal,” said Lenihan, 54. He took a vacation day from his job working for the state of New Hampshire to be there. “I’d probably volunteer to do this again, not in my mother’s stead.”

Angus Durocher, 48, was serving as a substitute (formally as a pro tempore) for Selectboard member John Kluge. Since returning from the West Coast around three years ago, Durocher, a cemetery trustee in town, has volunteered to help at elections. 

“It’s really just an honor to be able to help people out,” he said. “A big part of why I wanted to move back was to be involved in civic life.”

Tuesday marked the second election for 33-year-old poll worker Mary Hansen. She also worked in the September primary after learning that younger people were needed to help out at the polls due to the pandemic.

“I’d thought about it before, but never actually taken the plunge,” Hansen said during a lunch break. “I love it. It’s so much fun.”

Hansen was helping process absentee ballots and check in voters. She took a vacation day from her job at Dartmouth College and started working at 7 a.m.

“I’m very orderly. I like things that are task-oriented, where you can see the process,” Hansen said. “It also is satisfying to know I am serving my community and my country in a way that I can.”

A lot of the town’s older poll workers decided to participate, undeterred by the pandemic and confident about the safety processes put in place. In previous years, the town’s single polling site was at Whitney Hall, but was moved to the Community Building where space is more plentiful.

“I feel safe here, not at risk,” said Sue Blaine, 71, who is one of the supervisors of the checklist. “I’d rather be here than at Walmart or any other retailer.”

Becky Powell, 65, has been a ballot clerk for around 15 years and said she was comfortable with the protective gear people were wearing and the other safety precautions being taken.

“I like to see people that this is pretty much the only time I see them year after year,” Powell said. “This is a good chance to say hello.”

Powell, as well as Nancy White, a supervisor of the checklist, also found it encouraging that younger people are getting involved in Enfield’s civic life. It can be difficult for people who are not retired to be involved due to the time commitment.

“I love to see younger people involved volunteering, younger people voting,” the 80-year-old White said.

And it’s something many of the younger volunteers plan on keeping up, even once the pandemic passes.

“I’ll see where I’m living, see what the needs are and help where I can,” Grandi said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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