This election season will test the abilities of election officials to be creative and flexible like no other.
While the media has reported extensively on mail-in voting, which is valid and safe, it is crucial to remember that there will still be a lot of in-person voting before and on election day.
As safety precautions are being implemented to facilitate a safe in-person voting experience, there is still one major concern across the country: poll worker shortages.
Poll workers are vital for elections to run properly. They are the lifeblood of elections. In normal times, poll workers crosscheck necessary documents, guide people through lines, and help voters through the process from handing over the ballot to feeding it into the scanner. Poll workers during a pandemic are even more essential because, on top of their normal duties, they will also be the ones cleaning the center, enforcing social distancing measures, and encouraging voters to wear masks.
Poll workers in most states historically have skewed older than the average voter. According to the Election Administration Voting Survey from the EAC, in 2018 26% of poll workers were between the ages of 41-60, 31% were 61-70, and 27% were over the age of 71.
The population most at-risk for permanent complications and death from Covid-19 increases with age. Since the CDC recommends that people in at-risk groups stay a socially distanced as possible, many citizens who normally work polls during elections will not have this option come November.
That’s why election administrators are struggling to recruit and train a new crop of poll workers for November. To recruit a new class of workers and volunteers, they are getting creative.
There are three options for this November:
The younger poll worker initiatives generally require students to meet certain standards, such as permission from teachers, principals, and parents as well as maintaining a certain grade point average.
There is an entire generation of younger Americans that would likely serve as poll workers if administrators can reach them. BPC Elections Task Force Member Sherry Poland, Director of the Board of Elections of Hamilton County Ohio, describes the importance of their state youth program, or Youth at The Booth, saying “In Ohio, 17- & 18-year old high school seniors are eligible to work the polls. In Hamilton County, Ohio, we have had an extremely successful Youth at the Booth Program.
The younger generation’s familiarity with today’s technology coupled with their adult counterpart’s experience, makes the perfect poll worker team.” Election administrators can build from these examples and tailor programs to their needs. If we can get to them early, these 16 and 17-year olds could become poll workers for life!
Second, states should consider amending laws to allow noncitizens to volunteer. It is already happening in a few states. In California, legal residents (green card holders) can be poll workers if the only thing barring them from registering to vote is their citizenship status. In addition, while Washington and Oregon are fully mail voting states and very few traditional poll workers are used, there is no law stating that poll workers must be citizens. Offering this opportunity to noncitizens could help fill gaps for election officials.
Finally, public-private partnerships on poll workers should be used to fill gaps in November. Seeing the growing need for poll workers in the low-risk category, some companies are offering their employees as a resource for election administrators. Companies such as Target, Warby Parker, and Starbucks have partnered with the Power The Polls initiative to help recruit poll workers, and some companies are even offering their employees paid time off if they agree to volunteer at their respective precincts.
There are some jurisdictions in Florida such as Orange County that run programs for partnerships with nonprofits called “adopt-a-precinct” when an organization can partner with a particular precinct and provide it with staffing, and the supervisor of elections write the check directly to the organization as opposed to individual poll workers. Bill Cowles, The Supervisor of Elections for Orange County, states “Our Adopt-a-Precinct program” provides schools, youth groups, community and civic organizations the opportunity to serve their community on Election Day, while earning funds they can reinvest in the community. They bring us professional and youthful workers who understand teamwork and are tech savvy. Once they start they become community ambassadors of the Election process. We value the partnership we have with all of our Adopt-A-Precinct organizations.”
Local government employees and contractors may also be an option. Some localities deploy full-time staff from across departments to serve as poll workers on election day. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio the county council passed a resolution that would allow government employees to not only receive paid leave at their usual rates but also to receive poll worker pay.
Other effective partnerships have been utilized as well to provide more support at in-person polling places. The National Guard was activated in Wisconsin for the past three elections this year in order to assist in staffing polling locations. This program proved to be a great help in their first April primary, and was used moving forward.
Voting may look different this year, but it is still important to perform your civic duty. Without poll workers, we would not be able to vote in a safe and organized fashion, even in normal times. If you are interested in becoming a poll worker, please check your county elections website to see if you qualify or visit www.powerthepolls.org.
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