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Tuesday, June 06, 2023

When voters enter their precincts on Election Day, Woody Blue said she sees one predominant emotion — fear.

Blue, a 70-year-old Gainesville resident and massage therapist, has been a poll worker since the 1990s. In that time, she’s seen voters grow more cautious in casting their ballots for fear of being turned away due to potential violations.

With confusion surrounding identification requirements and an uptick in election distrust and redistricting, Blue said voters are more fearful than ever of an unsuccessful trip to the polls. These concerns have been exacerbated by accusations of voter fraud and doctored ballots in the 2020 election by former President Donald Trump, which has led some residents in states like Arizona to station themselves outside polling places with weapons to intimidate potential voters.  

“People are getting scared-er and scared-er to come to the voting booth,” she said. “They’re afraid that they’re going to get told that they can’t vote.” 

Alachua County poll workers are prepped and ready to receive more than 180,000 active registered voters Nov. 8, but some workers say distractions can slow the election night process. Amid election distrust and new districting criteria, poll workers and election officials are encouraging voters to double-check their precinct information and have confidence in Alachua County’s election process.

Voter frustrations have mounted in Alachua County, Blue said, mostly due to changed state voting districts following the 2020 census. Since then, voters have routinely shown up at the incorrect precinct to vote, Blue said.

Mix-ups sometimes draw the ire of misplaced voters, who Blue said can direct their anger at poll workers. But for those fed up with new districts, Blue said they should take it up with the capital.

“You have to go to Tallahassee to complain about that,” Blue said. “We just follow the laws.”

Voters can combat the confusion by checking their polling place prior to Election Day. Aaron Klein, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson, said residents can call the office for precinct information and other inquiries if they have questions.

The office aims to remain transparent about the election process, Klein said. Amid growing skepticism of elections nationwide, Klein said visiting an accessible elections office can reassure voters and inspire confidence in the process.

“People understand, ‘Hey, I can see up close, these are my neighbors. These are people in my community,’” he said.

These up-close engagements look to dispel fears that elections are unfair and unvetted, which have spiked in recent years.

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Distrust has run rampant since the 2020 presidential election, the results of which were highly contested through false accusations of voter fraud and ballot rigging. Since then, polls from NPR, Pew Research Center and other outlets report plummeting confidence in the American electoral system.

In Florida, accusations of voter fraud have put residents on edge. Gov. Ron DeSantis alleged felons voted illegally in 2020, and 20 former inmates were arrested under charges of voting without having the right restored as of August.

Local elections fare better against mass distrust, according to polling data, but Alachua County hasn’t escaped unscathed. A lack of Republican ballots at one precinct in August’s primary election led some to call conspiracy, asserting it was an avoidable oversight at best and a calculated move at worst.

The Supervisor of Elections Office was quick to refute those claims, stating the lack of ballots resulted from a miscommunication and the office printed plenty to accommodate all registered voters. The office is well-equipped to manage its responsibilities leading up to the election and simultaneously engage with public inquiries, Klein said.

Even without prior controversies, poll workers like Kristen Bryant, a 45-year-old City of Gainesville employee, say some voters can be inherently skeptical. Bryant experienced voter frustration in 2020 during her first election as a poll worker, where she said a few voters were defensive upon entry and came to their precincts expecting a problem. 

Bryant saw several voters enter the wrong precinct during this year’s primaries due to redistricting, she said. Though the Supervisor of Elections Office made concentrated efforts to inform voters of their new polling places, Bryant said many voters were still shocked and angry at the change.

“They did as big of a media blitz as possible, but people just still didn’t know,” she said. “There was a high number of people who were very upset.” 

Poll workers aren’t professionals, Bryant said. But they’re still prepared. 

Though the job of a poll worker isn’t a full-time commitment, Bryant said they undergo intensive training ahead of the election to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.

Voter hostility is never an ideal reaction to Election Day issues, but Bryant said the ultimate aim of poll workers is to allow every voter to cast their ballot — even the ones who give them a hard time.

“We have to meet people where they are,” Bryant said. “It certainly doesn’t make a person feel real good when you’re getting yelled at, but you just try to smile and be kind and get them to their end goal.”

Contact Heather at Follow her on Twitter @hmb_1013.

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Heather Bushman

Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.

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