Poll workers make elections possible. Without them, your community wouldn’t be able to cast ballots on Election Day, making US democracy that much less representative of the people.
They work tirelessly, from showing up early to open voting precincts to staying late to lock up and turn off the lights. In that time, they set up and monitor voting machines, organize paperwork, help voters with any questions, hand out voting materials, oversee day-of registration, and generally ensure the smooth functioning of the voting process.
The vast majority of poll workers are participating because of a deep and abiding belief in democracy and a desire to protect this important process.
Ultimately, they’re the custodians of the democratic process. That’s why this National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, which takes place every year on Aug. 16, Global Citizen and our partner HeadCount are celebrating their contributions and inviting more people to join the effort ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
The US has historically low voter turnout and, by becoming a poll worker, you’ll be helping to lift these numbers just by showing up and making things easier for people.
How to Become a Poll Worker
Signing up to work the polls is straightforward. First, head over to the Power the Polls website to learn about the nonpartisan initiative to ensure safe and fair elections in the US.
Sign up via Power the Polls, and you’ll be immediately directed to a page with your local elections office’s information. This will include your district’s requirements for poll workers — which might include being a resident of the county, being registered to vote, and being older than 18 — and how to submit an application.
If your application is accepted, 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, from how to read different types of identifications, navigate name and address changes, and how to make sure election observers are acting with integrity.
You might have to oversee a list of registered voters and confirm their status as they arrive to vote. Maybe you'll be the person handing out ballots, or assisting with machine-related questions. Or maybe you'll simply be a 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 NAACP's Legal Defense Fund’s (LDF) voting rights and Prepared to Vote projects, told Global Citizen in 2020. “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. If the lines are shorter, more people will be able to take time off work to vote. 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,” Anne Houghtaling, the deputy director of the LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute, told Global Citizen in 2020. “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.”
In years past, voters have reported feeling intimidated by protesters at early voting sites who chant, wave signs, and otherwise intimidate voters, 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.
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 in 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 and 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.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Oct. 7, 2020, and has been updated.
Global Citizen and HeadCount have teamed up to engage young Americans to check their voting status, register, and vote. Through the work of this groundbreaking nonpartisan collaboration, we’re activating young people to get involved and spark change in their communities by expressing opinions at the ballot box. Learn how to become a poll worker, register to vote, volunteer, and take action right now!