First Person | Detroit poll workers are heroes of this election

Bridge solicited and is publishing stories from poll workers and watchers of both major political parties.

This week, our poll workers reminded the state and the nation that Detroiters care deeply about our democracy and our community’s right to participate in it. Poll workers at TCF Center should be celebrated for their courage and integrity.

Starting 10 a.m. Monday when ballot pre-processing began, throughout Tuesday and all of Wednesday, Detroit’s poll workers faced persistent intimidation from numerous GOP challengers. We saw their lives being put at risk by challengers who repeatedly ignored health guidelines. 

All challengers had full and complete access to the process with more than the allowed 134 challengers per organization present at times. What did poll workers do? They kept counting; they did their job. 

Clare Allenson is a Detroiter and the civic engagement director for Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Joané Booth is partnerships manager for Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. Both served as nonpartisan poll challengers in Detroit.

We were in the room where it happened, serving as nonpartisan poll challengers. Our role was clear: ensure all votes were counted without interruption regardless of who they were for. 

After a few hours on Wednesday, there was a distinct change in the room and things became intense quickly as more challengers arrived. Eventually, the room hit capacity and the doors were shut. That’s when outside challengers began beating on the glass doors and windows shouting “stop the count!”. 

We heard the chanting inside the room as well, violating the rules of challenger conduct. We felt the pounding on the windows, which might have been broken had officers not stepped in. We saw challengers get ejected from the building by police officers as well for refusing to wear masks properly and attempting to intimidate workers.

We witnessed Daniel Baxter, who led the absentee counting board, demonstrate tenacious leadership. He confidently guided his team of poll workers, the majority being Black men and women from Detroit to remain above the fray. Problematic challengers met their match in that room.

Poll workers kept counting; they did their job. 

In fact, they even went above and beyond, explaining processes they were not required to demonstrate their commitment to accuracy. They followed protocols to a T. They saved democracy. 

While challengers were ostensibly there to challenge as many ballots as they could, over and over they were unable to articulate a legal reason for the challenge. We personally witnessed Republicans stand at the counting tables at times more than the one allowed per table who repeatedly had to be instructed to step back.

After witnessing all of this Wednesday, on Thursday evening we watched the president lie. He claimed Republicans were not allowed to observe ballot counting in Detroit. That is false. It is astounding that challengers boldly claim lack of access to the room when we witnessed hundreds of them inside. Many of the same people who beat the doors, had been in the room earlier that day or were let into the room on a one-in one-out policy.

Amid all of this, poll workers kept counting; they did their job.

Poll workers are heroes of our democracy. We hope that everyone will focus on the importance of their work and the sacrifices they made to deliver results to the American people. Detroiters showed the world exactly what true democracy looks like — regardless for whom the ballots are cast, every single vote is important.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Mon, 11/09/2020 - 8:51pm

Just kept counting, until they stopped. And when we woke up, Michigan flipped. The cheat is on, and I will no longer pay for Bridge. This is partisan trash.

Jennie B
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 10:38am

So you would have preferred that they didn't count the absentee ballots? Our family like so many voted absentee because of covid. We voted early and decisively for Biden because we thought Trump was incompetent. When I woke up, I heard Trump say "stop counting the votes." Why?

If you pay Bridge, why do you hide your name?

P Mann
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 10:50am

What is right. What are you talking about?

Vince Caruso
Mon, 11/09/2020 - 9:23pm

Thank you poll works, you are our heroes and preformed under great stress and scrutiny, and with COVID hanging over your heads, it is a great service you have given to us, our great state and democracy.
True patriots.