A poll worker assembles a ballot in New York's June party primaries. Since 2020, election officials & workers have faced harassment and threats from false claims of the stolen election.
( Richard Drew, File
Melissa: Thanks for sticking with us on The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
Tomorrow's a big day for the estimated 1 million poll workers across the country who will check you in, remind you to mark both sides of your ballot, and give you the coveted I-voted sticker. A recent survey by the Brennan Center found that half of election workers fear for the physical safety of their colleagues. According to the FBI, there are seven states experiencing high levels of threat to election workers, including Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Tianna: I'm Tianna Gaines-Turner.
Melissa: Tiana is a judge of elections in Philadelphia, a role she's done for more than three years.
Gabriella: [foreign language] Hi, my name is Gabriella Cazares-Kelly. I'm from the communities of Pisin' Mo'o and Tuc which are located in the Tohono O'odham Nation right here in beautiful Arizona, where I now serve as an elected Pima County Recorder.
Melissa: Gabriela is the first Native American elected to a Pima County-wide seat in Arizona. I asked both how they got into election work.
Tianna: It actually started from me just working on the board as just a clerk. The lady who held the position for many years, she was a little up in age, or family members that got sick and she had asked me to take it on. I remember from being a little girl, my mom used to do it. I was eager to be able to help out and do my part. I've been doing it ever since.
Gabriella: I used to be an academic advisor at a tribal community college. We one day had a community organization reach out to us and ask if we could host a voter registration table. Then we realized how many barriers there were for college students to get registered to vote. Not only college students, but even just generally when I would ask people are you registered to vote in the community, they would pause and they would say, "Do you mean local election, tribal government, or do you mean for the president?"
Every single conversation led to a civics lesson and it led me to doing this work on a volunteer basis and getting more politically involved until I realized that I needed to do something more because these systemic barriers, you can inform people that they're there, but unless you do something at a higher level, they're going to continue to impact your community.
Tianna: I have the joy to be able to be a judge of elections because I get to help my neighbors, my families, friends, help them to understand why it's important to vote, why it's important for you to exercise your right to vote. Then also to be able to give a little background on what's going on and how we can try to figure out to make a difference. I just feel like that is my place. I feel like that's something that I need to do, not just for my family and kids and neighbors and neighborhood, but just to try to do my part.
Gabriella: When I started recognizing those systemic barriers, I'm a Native American woman, I was working in a Native American community just trying to get folks registered to vote. There's this overlying conversation that certain populations of people are too lazy or they're uneducated or they don't want to-- All of it if you really break it down, it's white supremacy at its finest. When people blame shift and they talk about who's participating in our democracy as a whole and who isn't, we have to recognize that it wasn't that the system was built like, oh, they simply forgot about all the people of color and all of the women. No, it was designed not only to keep us out, it was designed to eradicate us.
Melissa: Both Gabriella and Tianna explained the importance of having women of color in these critical roles.
Gabriella: I wrote up a whole clarification guide for tribal members using tribal IDs with language that is understandable for the community of why they would maybe need a secondary form of identification and why theirs doesn't count. That is not something that everybody inherently knows and understands because not everybody has a tribal ID card, and so I do. I have a tribal ID card. I have voted with just my tribal ID card.
I understand the barriers that people are going to feel when they go to those locations and how angry and upset they're going to be as a Native American person wanting to participate. Being able to do something like that is extremely important for people to see visible Native Americans actively participating in our government in areas of leadership. We're able to contribute so much more.
Tianna: I think it's an honor because if we know of history, there was a time when women weren't even allowed to vote. To be able to want to, to be able to exercise my right to vote as a Black colored woman, and also to be able to hold position as judge of elections, I felt like it was my position and my duty to not only do it for myself and my family, but also for my daughter to show her as a woman of color, there's nothing that you can't do.
Melissa: The story of intimidation and feeling threatened and nervous is not the same for both. Here's what Gabriella had to say.
Gabriella: My office oversees early voting, which in Arizona is 27 days. We've actually had 15 early voting sites open where actually Monday we will close those and on election day the elections department will take over and they will have the one day of election day voting. However, [laughs] because we've already been facilitating early voting in Arizona, I think it's really, really important for people to know that we are not seeing the threats and the intimidation that some of my colleagues across the state are.
Melissa: For Tianna, the situation's a little different.
Tianna: I'm very nervous. Not just this election, but every election. We've had people who have cussed me out, and we've had people who has threatened some of my workers, threatened other people who I've worked with from other boards and wards. We've had people who have tried to come in and do things that was clearly against the law that they know they're not allowed to do. I've had people say, "Oh, we're going to call the cops on you." I'm very nervous, but again, I'm not a person that's easily moved. [chuckles] I have very thick skin.
Melissa: For Tianna, this is about the future of our democracy.
Tianna: I'm going to go in with my big girl boots on and just make sure that I do my part, and make sure that people feel comfortable when they're coming to our polling location. I plan to be judged for not this election, but for many elections to come and hopefully one day pass the torch down to my own daughter, or son.
Melissa: Gabriella has hopes for herself, her staff, and the voters.
Gabriella: I hope for voters, that voters are able to vote. We put a lot of protections there and I hope that people, no matter what their situation, they show up at the polls, even if they don't have IDs, should go out to the polls. There is a conditional provisional ballot we can give you. If you don't have the right address on your license, show up anyway, we can give you a provisional. There are so many protections for the voters. I hope that the voters vote.
For my staff, I hope that they get some sleep. I am hoping for them to know that they have done a good job at the end of the day, that they have followed every rule and procedure and they continue to get that work done. I hope they know that they've made a difference in our community.
Melissa: My thanks to Pima County Recorder, Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, and Philadelphia Election Judge, Tianna Gaines-Turner for sharing their stories. If y'all see them on election day, say thanks for their service to democracy.
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