Undeterred by 2020, Georgia ballot staff are returning to the polls

Menorca Collazo, 48, also said tense encounters with voters were not particularly common. But when it does, 24 hours of training completed in person and online will prepare her for this year’s assignment as Buford Town Hall’s Returning Officer – her first time in the role.

While still in college in Massachusetts, she began volunteering for elections and resumed service in Georgia in 2020. As polling officer this year, she led a team of greeters (called Non-Issuing Clerks in Georgia) and staff who assisted in verifying IDs and ensuring voters are at the correct polling station (called dispensaries).

Her training this year included all the changes introduced by the country’s new electoral law.

“Some people don’t like it, but we are here as officials. We don’t make the rules. Actually it’s the opposite. The rules will be made as a result of the voting,” 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 “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 many people take for granted. For me, it’s about playing a role in making sure people have their rights and people are educated,” she said.

Her training also touched on “dealing with possible conflicts and problems and conflict resolution techniques”. Luckily, Collazo’s 15-hour shift was completely conflict-free.

Menorca Collazo, who has been a poll worker for several years, at City Hall in Buford, Georgia on Tuesday.Lynsey Weatherspoon for NBC News

However, that was not the case for Laura Michelle, a polls director at the Bogan Community Center in Buford, during an early voting window at that location last week.

An election observer — someone who is often allowed, at the behest of a candidate or a political party, to watch what’s going on at polling stations to protect themselves from violations of voting rights — took offense at a procedural issue and told Michelle he thought it was evidence of his Belief that the 2020 election was stolen by Trump.

“I defused the situation. We had a quick little chat about his rights and we worked it out,” she said. “If someone attacks me, I deal with it the way I was taught.”

Are such incidents frustrating? “We are literally here to make sure voting is safe for everyone. Some election observers may not understand the process,” she replied. “I just hope they see that I’m only here to get their vote.”

“I’m trying to capture the moment”

Gwinnett County, a fast-growing and diversifying Atlanta suburb — the state’s second most populous — has trended blue in state and national elections. After decades of being reliably red, Hillary Clinton flipped it in 2016, and in 2020 Biden won 58 percent of the vote (compared to 40 percent for Trump). This year, however, the June elections and early voting in October were plagued by problems such as long waits and lines.

Since he took the job 10 months ago, Manifold’s primary focus has been on educating voters, he said.

He expanded his office’s outreach activities with new staff who will focus on voter education and regularly attend community forums and send out materials to residents to explain the new rules regarding mail-in voter ID requirements and other changes brought about by the new Voting was required by law. The materials will be sent out in five languages ​​– English, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean — giving all voters in the increasingly diverse county a chance to make the changes needed. In 2012, the district electoral office had 10 full-time employees. Now it’s 42.

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

As for election-denying critics, many poll workers interviewed had one piece of advice: the best remedy for them would be to vote in elections themselves.

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

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

Collazo, the election officer at Buford Town Hall, also encouraged people to keep going and get involved.

“This election is over. We have confirmed this choice. We’re moving forward. We’ve made improvements. We’re trying to do better and we want people to feel safe about the voting process and the experience,” she said.

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