Left to right: Chair of NNPA Dorothy R. Leavell; Laura Mitnaul Wooten; and NNPA President and CEO Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. / DIVERSITYINC

97-Year-Old Black Woman Has Been an Election Day Poll Worker for 79 Years

Laura Mitnaul Wooten plans to head to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in the midterm elections, and to work, as she’s done every Election Day for the past 79 years, consecutively. Wooten said that the right to vote, which so many suffered and even died for, is currently being taken for granted.

Born Dec. 19, 1920, a year after the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, Wooten got her start in 1939. Her uncle, Anderson Mitnaul, ran for justice of the peace in Princeton, N.J., and recruited her to work for $10 as a “challenger” at what was known as the Colored Y. Princeton has a historically Black community, where legendary singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson grew up.

Wooten, of Lawrenceville, is the longest working poll worker in Mercer County, and the state of New Jersey, and likely the longest, living, continuing serving poll worker in the U.S.

When accepting the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s leadership award on Friday night, she explained that when she first got her start, she would check off the names of people who voted that day. But, if someone’s name wasn’t checked off, workers “would go to their homes and pick up the people who didn’t go to the polls,” she said.

Wooten’s decades-long experience in politics has made her aware of what are issues at stake in the upcoming midterm elections, including Medicare and Social Security.

“I hope everyone of age and American will go out and vote,” she said. “A vote is important.

“And I hope you vote so that we can save Medicare and Social Security [as] we all need that.”

According to a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic, only 28 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 said they are “absolutely certain” they will vote in midterm elections, compared to 74 percent of seniors.

“I encourage young people to get out and vote because too many of them don’t vote these days,” Wooten added.

“But there was a time, years ago, when just about everybody voted, but it’s gotten slack in these years.”

The National Newspaper Publishers Association, founded 75 years ago, is the trade association of the more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers from around the U.S. Its annual National Leadership Awards reception, sponsored by General Motors, took place during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 48th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

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