Everyone has their own election hero — maybe yours is CNN's John King or MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, the number crunchers who have possibly slept for a combined seven hours this week in order to keep us up to date on the latest batch of ballots reported from Maricopa County. It could be activist Stacey Abrams, whose tireless efforts to expand voting rights and curb voter suppression appear to have flipped Georgia blue.

My heroes this election — and every election — are the volunteers who ensured that polling locations were set up and voters could safely cast their ballots, as well as the county election workers who spent months prepping for Election Day, painstakingly counting ballots, and carefully checking signatures.

Every county handles elections differently, with their own requirements for poll workers and how ballots are counted. (Multnomah County in Oregon has a handy video showing the path a mail-in ballot takes there). One thing is pretty universal, though: The people who volunteer to work the polls want to do their civic duty and serve their community. It's not a glamorous job, and if they get a stipend, it's never more than around $200 for a 16-hour day. They don't do it for the money. They do it because they understand that we need them, and there's immense value in what they do.

Poll workers usually skew older — in 2018, about 58 percent were 61 or over — and this year, younger volunteers stepped up during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure there were enough people to staff each location (when there's not, sites are consolidated, which makes it harder for people to vote, especially in communities of color). These younger poll workers were also more diverse, which can help make voters feel comfortable — they are more inclined to participate if they feel represented and see themselves reflected at the polls.

I love that poll work is a way Americans can get involved directly in elections — I think it makes voting that much more special. I volunteered in high school to work at a polling location, and while I definitely appreciated a day off from school and some spending money, I genuinely enjoyed meeting people I ordinarily never would have crossed paths with, helping them navigate the voting process. I wasn't yet old enough to participate, but it made me excited for the day I'd cast my first ballot.

A lot of people can't remember what they had for breakfast yesterday, yet alone what they learned in government class back in high school, which is why volunteering at the polls is also an excellent way for people to get educated again on how elections work. And if you know that your neighbor, your best friend, or your fellow parishioner is a poll or election worker, that should give you even more faith in the system. It doesn't get more "We the People" than this.

Going into the election, there was a lot of guessing: Would President Trump once again lose the popular vote but win the electoral college? (No.) Would Americans come out in force to smash earlier voting records? (Yes.) Would Arizona flip blue? (We're still waiting on an official answer for that one.) But one thing I knew was that our poll and election workers were going to take their jobs seriously and make sure that voting was safe and fair. This democracy only works when we have people fighting for it, and they are always the ones who make certain that our voices are heard.

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