A morning with Richard Allen: a poll greeter who has volunteered for 52 years.

By Yushuo Wang and Bella Ortley-Guthrie

It is 10:36 a.m. on a brisk October morning – three hours into Richard Allen’s 6.5 hour shift as a poll greeter for the Forsyth Democratic Party.

His booming voice echoes in the dark parking garage of the Forsyth County Government Center calling out to voters and passing out pamphlets. Candidate pamphlets and sample ballots are stacked high on folding chairs beside him. Four poll greeters, two women and one other man, huddle beside him near the parking lot pillars. 

“You have to approach people from different points of view, and let people talk to you and then respond. You’re not going to convince everybody; not everybody likes talking,” Allen said.

Allen has been greeting voters at the polls for 52 years, starting at age 18, during the era of the Vietnam War. This year’s routine started around 7:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the polls opened at 8:00 a.m. From there, he stays until 2:00 p.m. talking to voters and passers-by. Most days during early voting, he held signs for Denise Hartsfield, who lost her bid for district attorney, and Tonya McDaniel, who was re-elected to a seat on the board of commissioners. 

“It’s sad when [people] don’t use their right to vote. When you have the right to vote, it’s your responsibility to educate yourself about the issues and vote for issues that are important to you,” Allen said. At 18, he was motivated to take an active part in getting people to vote after seeing the impact of the Vietnam War. 

A poll greeter is a volunteer with a specific party or candidate who works to pass along information, answer questions, and direct voters during an election. Allen also noted the importance of poll greeters to help voters understand who is on the ballot. According to him, voting in North Carolina is unusual in the way that there are positions in which people can vote for more than one candidate.

“A lot of people might skip over the instruction on the data itself, so I try to point out particular offices where you are allowed to vote for more than one. Just make sure that you look at the entire ballot because all offices are important,” Allen said. 

A photo of the entrance into the Forsyth County Government Center Parking Garage by Yushuo Wang

Throughout his years of poll greeting, Allen says his view on politics has remained unchanged. However, he said he observed less civility between parties and voters beginning around 2016 when Donal Trump was elected president.

 “I see more separation of people — people are not as civilized as they used to be. There tends to be an edge among some people — not everybody — now there’s intensity or bitterness if I don’t agree with your candidate slate,” Allen said. 

He also stated seeing less coverage and turnout for the election at his early voting location. He called the turnout during early voting dismal. Forsyth County’s total turnout rate was 49.4%.  

“For whatever reason, people don’t think that they need to cover the midterms which cover local issues. [However], local issues and state issues, all of them are important. You can’t just get one position at the top and expect things to be better down here, unless you have checks and balances throughout the system,” Allen said.

For Allen, Barack Obama’s campaign, election and presidency stood out to him the most during his experience volunteering. 

“It was most memorable to me not from a poll greeters perspective, [but from] being a Black American and having the first Black president elected,” Allen said. 

He felt hopeful when Obama was elected —  hopeful that the nation was moving towards a more unified mentality.

Allen views poll greeting for the Democratic Party as a job. “I want to participate and help wherever I can. I’m a worker, and it takes workers beside leaders. You can’t do one without the other,” Allen said.

Allen’s dedication to poll greeting comes from a desire to encourage people to see the correlation between exercising their right to vote and taking action in their lives.

“People need to try and take control of their lives through voting, by voting in people that have their best interest at heart,” Allen said. “If you don’t do anything politically in this country, people do what they want. They fund all programs and cover issues that are important to people that vote. If you don’t vote, you really don’t have a voice. It’s about having a voice.”

Author: Yushuo Wang