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Meet 4 Election Heroes Working Tirelessly in the Shadows to Help Democracy Prevail

This profile was originally published by PEOPLE.

Poll workers and election administrators are at once the most visible and unseen figures in United States elections. Never the stars of the show yet vital to the democratic process, their hard work is put on display for the world to see any time vote counts pour in during election week.

Amid poll worker shortages and unwarranted distrust in the integrity of American elections, the job of election workers has become increasingly difficult. They undergo trainings and work long hours, understanding that in today's polarized political climate, they may face harassment and threats from people who are dissatisfied with how the electorate votes.

As the U.S. prepares to wrap its first major election cycle since the riots that followed 2020's presidential vote count, scrutiny toward election officials has reached a crescendo. Still, hundreds of thousands of Americans will wake up early on Tuesday, head to work and ensure that fellow citizens' votes are seamlessly cast and accounted for.

In honor of Election Hero Day on Monday, Nov. 7, PEOPLE asked four nonpartisan election officials in various roles about the joys and challenges of keeping democracy intact.

This year we celebrate Liana, a young woman born in Fiji amid a political coup whose vow to never take democracy for granted inspired her efforts to recruit college students as poll workers. We celebrate Armando, an immigrant-turned-U.S. citizen who aims to break down barriers that prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot. We celebrate Beth, a 31-year election veteran who tests voting machines and mentors chief election officers in the lead-up to Election Day. And we celebrate Tanya, who returns for her second time as a poll worker, ready to empower fellow members of her community.

Liana, 21, Virginia

When did you first get involved in election work?

I ditched school on my 18th birthday ... to register to vote, and first signed up for information on poll working then. It wasn't until the pandemic hit, right before the June 2020 primaries, that I was actually at home from college and available to volunteer for the election.

What motivated you to serve as a poll worker?

Voting is great, but it's just the first step. The first election I worked was at the start of a global pandemic, and everyone was scared — could they even come out and vote safely? Because most of the folks who work elections in my county are seniors, there was a concern that we wouldn't be able to get enough poll workers. In my mind, that meant that one of the best ways I could support democracy as a healthy 19-year-old back from college would be to volunteer as a poll worker and encourage my friends to do it with me.

What is the hardest part of the role?

Definitely misinformation about the integrity of election workers. It's heartbreaking. Poll workers don't get out of bed at 4 a.m. on Election Day because of the pay. These are some of the most patriotic and proud Americans I know, from recently naturalized citizens to lifelong residents of my street. Every election worker I know — Republican, Democrat, independent, otherwise — does the job because they believe deeply and unreservedly in American democracy and the electoral process.

What do people misunderstand about the work that election officials do?

How much of the job of a poll worker is just ensuring the accuracy of election counts through a series of thoughtful safeguards. Every step, from registering voters, to helping them fill out ballots, to submitting them to machines, to tallying them, is triple-checked by poll workers who validate that everything was correct in multiple ways. As a poll worker, so many of the rumors I've seen about how elections could have been manipulated almost make me want to laugh, because I know how impossible many of those suggestions are.

Why is it vital that everyone casts a vote?

I always tell people that in a state like Virginia, the phrase "every vote counts" isn't just an adage: It's a fact. In the 2017 House of Delegates race, the result of the 94th District was a tie, and so the seat was decided by literally picking a name out of a bowl (seriously, look it up), which ended up determining partisan control of the entire Virginia House in a 51-49 split. You never know when your vote and voice (or lack thereof) might matter enough to change the course of your community.

Armando, 32, California

When did you first get involved in election work?

After completing my first semester at California State University, Sacramento, in 2009, I began searching for a job outside the food industry. Luckily, a friend who worked for the California secretary of state at the time informed me about an employment opportunity in its elections division. I immediately applied and was hired as an elections division student assistant on April 1, 2009.

What motivated you to enter this line of work?

What I initially thought was a college job ended up turning into a career when I transferred from the California Secretary of State's Office to the Sacramento County Office of Elections in 2014. It was here I had the opportunity to work in most, if not all, its election administration divisions. When I began this journey, I was a permanent resident with no voting rights. In December 2014, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen and had garnered knowledge, experience and a well-rounded understanding of election administration.

Having experienced first-hand the importance of voting, it became the iron pillar of my work to help remove all barriers from people who are eligible to register to vote and encourage them to vote. This work has been the fuel igniting my desire to continue moving forward in this career path. My motivation and passion for what I do in elections work helped me land a role in my current county as the deputy of elections. We have a committed and determined team that helps ensure all county residents have the resources they need to participate in their civic duty.

What is the hardest part of the job?

Elections administrators face a myriad of challenges; however, based on my experience, there are two difficult parts of the job.

First, the lack of staffing and financial resources for election administrators hinders the ability of smaller jurisdictions with smaller general fund accounts to create or expand election education and outreach programs or hire more staff to finish processes more efficiently.

Second, the constant and consistent attacks election administrators have been facing since the 2020 election cycle have been exceedingly difficult to tolerate. The mistrust, misinformation and disinformation have created challenges in our line of work and have led many experienced and passionate elections employees to retire because it has been too much to cope with, not just for them, but also their families. For those of us, like myself, who are people of color serving as election administrators, it has made the situation more cumbersome.

What do people misunderstand about the work that election officials do?

Most people misunderstand the role, not just the line of work election administrators do, and that is mostly that this is a year-round job. We do not just work during an important election cycle or season, even though more attention sways in our direction during presidential elections.

The most frequent questions I get asked are, "What do you do after election day?" or "What do you do during odd years when elections are less likely to happen?" The answer is: Election administrators work year-round to ensure that policies and procedures are updated, and we work on disseminating voter outreach materials and providing education. We also register and maintain the voter rolls, among other things.

Everyone I have worked with through the course of my career, including now, are hard-working individuals doing their best to ensure that we are ready for the next election cycle. I genuinely believe that my job — as well as for those who work in this field — are the true protectors of democracy, and that makes my role ever so important and necessary in the land of the free.

Why is it vital that everyone casts a vote?

We live in a country that provides many freedoms, including freedom of speech. A vote correlates to a person's opinion toward who is getting elected, whether a state proposition should pass, or whether a local district measure should pass. Regardless of what is on the ballot, it is essential to note that decisions are being made that will have a direct impact on communities; therefore, your voice is your vote, and everyone, regardless of background, who is eligible should cast their vote to have their voice be heard!

Beth, 57, Virginia

When did you first get involved in election work?

1991. I had a Fulbright Scholarship in Romania. I was asked to serve with the International Election Monitor with the U.S. Department of State. Seeing the democratic process at work was fascinating — I was hooked.

What motivated you to enter this line of work?

I'm an active member of my local League of Women Voters, which encourages our members to serve as election officers. I've now served in almost 20 elections — rising through the ranks from assistant chief, to chief, and now as Route Rover. As Route Rover, I mentor other chiefs, working with them to prepare for Election Day. On Election Day, I will visit seven precincts to assist the chief election officers to administer fair and smooth elections. I also work extensively other election officials to test equipment ahead of the elections.

What is the hardest part of the job?

The long hours! On Election Day, I arrive at the precinct at 5 a.m. and often return home at 11 p.m. We also have to pay the closest attention to detail — no errors!

What do people misunderstand about the work that election officials do?

That we have any control over the outcomes of the election. There are so many checks and balances in place — so many signatures required, election officers overseeing and double checking the work, and tight security. Using paper ballots enables easy recounting and audits. The voters make the decisions — we are here to ensure that they have the best experience possible so that they will return to vote in future elections.

Why is it vital that everyone casts a vote?

Election Day is the one day where the poorest citizen's say is equal to the wealthiest. We all need to do our due diligence to learn about the candidates and their positions as well as issues on the ballots like bonds or constitutional amendments, so that we can cast the most thoughtful vote possible. When more voters participate in elections we build a stronger society and nation that truly reflects our communities.

Tanya, 46, Florida

When did you first get involved in election work?

I first got involved during the 2020 election between Trump and Biden after I got a text to easily apply through the Power the Polls website.

What motivated you to serve as a poll worker?

I wanted to be a part of the historical process for that election. After that, I stayed because I found it to be gratifying and inspiring. It's exciting to be there on Election Day!

What is the hardest part of the role?

Well, the set-up and break-down of the whole polling location can be a bit tiring. I try to do most of the work since I am younger than a few of the elders that work with me.

But I feel the hardest part of the role is dealing with certain rules of law. For example, if someone did not register two weeks prior, unfortunately, they cannot cast their ballot. So we prioritize letting everyone know that they must be registered at least 2 weeks prior to election day to make sure their name is counted.

What do people misunderstand about the work that elections officials do?

I think people might feel that we have some hidden agenda towards certain candidates but everyone that I have met is just trying to make sure every single person regardless of party affiliation is counted. We all take great pride in making sure that everyone, and I mean absolutely everyone that is eligible to vote, gets their vote in on time election day.

Why is it vital that everyone casts a vote?

I feel one of the most important duties we have as people who live in a democratic country is to have each voice count. When someone doesn't vote it is like taking one important voice in the process away. No matter what party anyone belongs to we all are here to protect and honor the constitution of this nation. That's what makes our democracy so great!

Check your voter registration, locate your polling place, and make a voting plan at Vote.org to ensure that your voice is heard this election season.