The COVID-19 pandemic is making the Nov. 3 presidential election unlike any other, as districts across the United States brace for a potential surge in infection rates.
Already, voters have requested an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots and early voting is expected to break records so people can practice social distancing. At the same time, new forms of voter suppression are emerging that could prevent people across the country from exercising their right to vote. Voter registration numbers, for example, have plummeted this year, even though Gen Z will make up a larger share of the electorate than ever before.
The need for a safe and well-managed voting process has rarely been more urgent. Yet the people who normally oversee polling sites and help people vote — those over the age of 60 — are largely avoiding that role this year because of their heightened risk of experiencing severe consequences from COVID-19.
Massive poll worker shortages have been documented across the country as a result. With fewer poll workers, voting locations could face an array of challenges and voters in many precincts could have to wait longer in lines.
That’s why there are various, recently launched campaigns to recruit poll workers for the upcoming election. More Than a Vote, a coalition of Black athletes and artists, has teamed up with the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) to recruit more than 10,000 poll workers in various cities. Other organizations and initiatives like All Voting Is Local and Power the Polls are inviting people to sign up as poll workers as well.
Signing up to work the polls is straightforward. First, head over to the US Election Assistance Committee website and check out what the requirements are for your election district. They might include being a resident of the county, being registered to vote, and being older than 18. Then, contact your local election office and ask to sign up to be a poll worker.
Poll worker Steve Hayes sanitizes pens at a polling place on April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Once you do this, you’ll be asked to attend a training session where you’ll learn all the ins and outs of what your role on Election Day will look like.
You might have to oversee a list of registered voters and confirm their status as they arrive to vote. You might be the person handing out ballots, or the person assisting with machine-related questions. You might simply be a free-floating poll worker who troubleshoots issues, guides people in the right direction, or hands out “I Voted” stickers.
Whatever role you end up playing, your contributions will be essential.
Here are five reasons why you should become a poll worker.
1. There’s a poll worker shortage.
In-person voting can only happen if poll workers staff polling sites. When there’s a poll worker shortage, some crucial voting locations may even be closed. By becoming a poll worker, you’ll help to ensure your community has the personnel it needs to keep polling sites open.
“Poll workers have the capacity to ensure that an election process is smooth and runs efficiently,” Tanesha Williams, an attorney and digital campaign manager for the LDF’s voting rights and Prepared to Vote projects, told Global Citizen. “They’re almost ambassadors to democracy in that sense.”
2. You’ll be protecting US democracy.
Without poll workers, voting sites could close or inadvertently disenfranchise citizens by not having the capacity to handle an influx of voters. In this scenario, US democracy would be undermined — it only reaches its full potential when everyone can cast their ballot and make their voice heard.
3. You’ll be making the lives of voters easier and safer.
The more poll workers, the smoother Election Day will be. If numerous poll workers are assigned to poll books and machine troubleshooting, for example, then lines are less likely to develop inside and outside the building. With fewer lines, the risk of COVID-19 transmission goes down and people in your community will be safer. More poll workers also means more hygienic control of a space, with more people wiping down surfaces and refilling hand sanitizer containers.
“We’re a democracy where one person is one vote,” said Anne Houghtaling, the deputy director of the LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute. “If you work, you can’t wait in line for six hours. If you have kids, you can’t wait in line for six hours.”
She added that by volunteering as a poll worker, you’ll be helping historically disenfranchised voters — the working class, people of color, young people — exercise their right.
Williams said that poll workers of different backgrounds can help voters feel more included at the polls, which can increase voter turnout and create a sense of common purpose.
“As a Black, masculine-presenting lesbian, going into a polling site and seeing someone who shares one of my identities or a poll worker from a historically marginalized group, it makes me feel a sense of comfort and belonging in the space,” she said. “Representation matters.”
Already, voters have reported feeling intimidated by protesters at early voting sites who chant, wave signs, and otherwise intimidate people, while recent calls for people to closely “watch” polling sites have concerned election officials and voting rights advocates, raising fears of potential violence.
By signing up as a poll worker, you can help to ensure a safe and inviting environment.
A volunteer poll worker wears a VOTE mask waiting in line to help early voters cast their ballots inside of the Franklin County Board of Elections Office on Oct. 6, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio.
4. You’ll learn more about the voting process.
Volunteering as a poll worker allows you to peer into the inner workings of democracy — how votes are tallied, who actually shows up to vote, and how power is accrued. You might gain a deeper appreciation for the arduous process of getting out the vote. You might even become inspired to play a bigger role in voter registration and organizing in your community for future elections.
“We talk about the importance of showing Black youth who have organized, marched, and chanted, and really demanded change,” Williams said. “The whole call to action is to step it up and take it a bit further and become a poll worker, understanding the urgency of the time, and the role they can play as a frontline worker. This is the work of our democracy and they can really do their part in shaping it.”
5. You’ll probably get paid!
There’s a good chance you’ll get paid for the hours you put in on Election Day — you can find out by looking up your county here.
Global Citizen and HeadCount have teamed up to launch Just Vote, a campaign mobilizing young Americans to register to vote ahead of the 2020 election and beyond. As part of the campaign, your favorite artists and entertainers are offering exclusive experiences, performances, and memorabilia — and they can only be unlocked once eligible voters check their voter registration status. Learn more about Just Vote and how you can take action here.