Pandemic Poll Workers Are Desperately Needed

Emily Baller
Senior Political Associate
Unite America

The past months have tested the strength of our election systems. While it’s politicians who often get the praise for “maintaining our democracy,” the truth is that there are others who deserve praise for making our elections possible.

Indeed, America’s poll workers provide an invaluable service to our nation.

Working the polls is a thankless job, but their service is nevertheless essential to executing the elections that are integral to our democracy. 

Poll workers act as the eyes and ears of election officials, helping voters navigate the polls and ensuring the integrity of every vote cast. They work long hours -- arriving early to set up polling stations, and staying late carefully counting each and every vote. Organization at the polls and adequate training are the difference between easy voting and disenfranchising long lines, and their diligence in counting votes is essential to preventing chaos and confusion on election night.  

Unbeknownst to most people, the current pandemic has resulted in a severe shortage of poll workers.

Historically, the population of poll workers is made up largely of the elderly population. More than half of the country's poll workers were over the age of 61 in 2016. Understandably, many volunteers have decided to put their safety first and stay home from working the polls during the pandemic. So where does this leave our elections?

Understaffed and in desperate need for young, healthy poll workers. 

Widespread expansion of Vote-at-Home systems can alleviate the immense burden on in-person polling stations, but states must maintain the opportunity to safely vote in person. Recent elections demonstrate issues persist at in-person polling locations.

Take Texas for example. Recruiting poll workers during a global pandemic turned out to be a difficult task. Outbreaks of Covid-19 elevated the risk of both voting and volunteering at the polls. Poll workers dropped out, and polling locations had to be closed. 

The reality is that limited polling stations and long lines contribute to the disenfranchisement of voters. In one instance, long lines in Georgia forced some voters to wait over seven hours to cast a ballot. If things are this bad in primaries, it is certain that it will be worse in November.

An opportunity to respond to this crisis now awaits America’s next generations. There is a need to ensure that citizens can fulfill their democratic duty, and America’s younger generation can be a part of the solution by working the polls this election cycle.

Becoming a poll worker is not an overcomplicated process. In fact, it can be condensed into four simple steps.

  1. Contact the voter registrar in your county of residence.
  2. Complete necessary training and examinations.
  3. Be officially appointed/nominated (may be impacted by affiliation requirements in some states).
  4. Serve your term as a poll worker.

Each state differs slightly in specific requirements and processes, but the message from the states election administrators remains the same -- there is a dire need for people to work the polls.

The safety, security, and access of our elections are being threatened by Covid-19 on multiple fronts. If young Americans respond to the call and serve their fellow citizens at the polls, America will be better equipped to execute a safe and fair election for all.

Check out Power the Polls or this resource from the Elections Assistance Commission to find more information on becoming a poll worker in your specific precinct. 

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