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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Poll work gives young people 'a chance to make an impact in the community'

    Ari Gelfond poses in his Taftville home Thursday, October 8, 2020. Gelfond, who’s grandmother is the city’s Republican Registrar of Voters Dianne Slopak, will be volunteering to work the polls this Election Day. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    This story is the second in a series on young poll workers in southeastern Connecticut. The first story can be found here.

    Norwich — Ari Gelfond has been a poll worker for seven years, and he’s only 23.

    The city resident is another young person taking the responsibility of being at the polls on Nov. 3 to help make sure in-person voting runs smoothly.

    “I look forward to every election, state, city, presidential,” Gelfond said. “With the pandemic, it’s going to affect turnout, but a lot of people are going to vote in person, too.”

    The COVID-19 pandemic altered this year’s presidential primaries and other elections throughout the country, causing long lines, canceled and postponed elections, increased their cost, delayed results and expanded vote-by-mail options. The November election is expected to be far busier than the August primaries.

    Working the polls has become a precarious task for those age 65 and older, who make up a large portion of poll workers, but who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. That’s why Connecticut is seeking volunteers of all backgrounds, including the young, to help out this year.

    Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill launched a poll worker recruitment program because of the possible loss of seniors who decide against working the polls this year. The program is described as a campaign to sign up and train new and young poll workers specifically for the general election. Merrill also joined the National Association of Secretaries of State, among other organizations, in promoting a recruitment effort called Poll Worker, Esq. It’s meant to appeal to attorneys and law students to become poll workers.

    Gelfond isn’t particularly concerned about the safety threat posed by the pandemic.

    “In Norwich, we’ve always been very efficient,” he said. “We get people into the booths, get their votes counted, so it’s not something I’m too worried about, even with the conditions we’re in.”

    The grandson of Norwich Republican Registrar Dianne Slopak, and a Republican himself, Gelfond said working the polls has become a bit of a family affair. His mother, his cousins, his aunt, his 21-year old sister, her friends, "all kind of pitch in,” Gelfond said.

    “They’re glad to get out of their day-to-day jobs or day-to-day lives,” he continued. “It’s fun. I don’t want to say we’re hanging out, though, because we’re working, and it gives us a chance to make an impact in the community.”

    Slopak brought Gelfond into the fold when he was 16 and looking for a job. This year, poll workers in Norwich are being paid slightly more than usual — between $250 and $400 depending on the position — to work on Election Day. She said a lot of registrars recruit people they know personally to be poll workers, which includes family, in part because they’re not as hard to persuade. But there are other reasons.

    “Most registrars have family members working because we know that they’re dependable and competent,” Slopak said. “It’s not easy to get poll workers generally.”

    Gelfond went to Three Rivers Community College but transferred to Mitchell College, eventually graduating with a degree in business administration. He works at ShopRite in Norwich as a bookkeeper and front-end supervisor, and has been an essential worker throughout the pandemic.

    “I’ve been one of the lucky ones during the pandemic with work,” he said. “Other than that, I’m your average 23-year-old, fresh-out-of-college graduate. Sports, hanging out with friends, video games, all that stuff.”

    Gelfond acknowledged that his time on the front lines during the pandemic has made him comfortable enough with working the polls.

    “I was able to relay to my grandmother, ‘Here’s how we handle things on the front lines at the grocery store, maybe we can use some of those ideas here,’” he said.

    Slopak called Gelfond an “impressive young man.”

    “He’s worked his way up from a demonstrator and now he’s a moderator, because he’s competent and efficient at the job,” she said. “Not everybody can be a moderator. If I didn’t feel that he could do the job, he certainly wouldn’t be a moderator. I don’t have that many poll workers under 25 ... Ari has been working the longest and has the most responsible job out of the younger people that work for me.”

    As a young poll worker, and a member of a family of poll workers, Gelfond said he knows he’s in a “unique” situation. The role has raised his awareness of the political process, which he tries to pass on to people around him.

    “I get on my friends,” he said. “The ones that work with me do their mail-in ballots, but the ones that don’t, I’ve been stressing it since 2016. I tell them, ‘You got to vote. It’s the only way to make a difference. It’s the only way we can have a voice.’ I do hope to see more young people start to get involved, go out and vote, work the polls, the whole thing.”

    s.spinella@theday.com 

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