How to become a poll worker — and other ways to encourage voting

By Madison Troyer, Stacker | September 20, 2022


Voting in America is as old as the country itself. From the first election in 1788, in which George Washington was unanimously elected president, to President Joe Biden's victory over former President Donald Trump in 2020, voting for our leaders is one of the few parts of the political process that hasn't changed much—though in 2020 both the process and the results became highly polarized.


Voting is so important because it is one of the few ways regular people can make their voices heard and the only way a government is able to represent the best interests and needs of the people. That being said, who has the right to vote has changed quite a bit throughout our history: In early elections, only white male landowners over the age of 25 were allowed to cast ballots. Today—with the exception of people with felony convictions in some states—U.S. citizens of all genders, races, and income levels can vote.


In 2020, 158.4 million citizens—almost two-thirds of estimated eligible voters—voted in the presidential elections, according to the Pew Research Center. The number represented a higher than average turnout, with people voting in numbers not seen since 1980 and possibly well before then.


Still, many eligible voters didn't vote in 2020. There are numerous reasons people don't engage in the voting process. Voting can be inconvenient to fit in around work and childcare schedules—a problem cited even before the COVID-19 pandemic complicated matters. ID requirements, limits on mail-in and absentee voting, and polling place and drop-box reductions all make voting difficult. Coming out of the 2020 election, more than a dozen Republican-held states have imposed voting restrictions that critics say make it harder for poor people and people of color to vote—demographics that reliably support democrats.


In addition to getting people out to vote, our democracy depends on poll workers—members of local communities that help run polling locations, show voters how to use voting machines, and work to solve administrative snafus. There is currently a shortage of poll workers—a concern with midterm elections so close—prompting recruitment campaigns across the country.


Stacker compiled information from websites for government, civic organizations, voting rights, and voting information on how you can become a poll worker and various other resources to encourage and empower voting. We're releasing this story as part of Democracy Day—a nationwide initiative aimed at highlighting the importance of our democracy and of protecting it.


1. Know what's expected of poll workers

An essential part of any election, poll workers fill a variety of roles on the actual day. Before signing up, be sure to know what may be expected of those filling these roles. For example, some poll workers may be registering or checking in voters, others may be distributing ballots, and still others may be acting as a resource for non-English speaking voters.


2. Register with Power the Polls

If you feel confident in your ability to handle these tasks, then head over to the Power the Polls website. The organization's goal is to eliminate the poll worker shortage by signing up thousands of new poll workers nationwide. After entering some basic information on the website, you'll be notified if workers are still needed in your area and pointed in the right direction to apply for open roles.


3. Check your registered voter status

While the requirements for poll workers vary by state, most require you to be a registered voter. If you're unsure of your status, check on the National Association of Secretaries of State website, or click here.


4. Check the age requirements in your state

Although being a registered voter is a requirement for poll workers in most states, many also make allowances for individuals under 18 who wish to be involved in the democratic process. Some states require these young adults to hold a certain GPA or obtain a signed permission slip in order to participate. Enter your zip code on Power the Polls to discover the requirements in your city or county.


5. Check party residency requirements in your state

Nearly every state requires poll workers to be residents in the area where they're applying to work. However, some states also require poll workers to have lived in the state for a certain length of time. Ensure you're eligible by reading through the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's compendium of election worker laws and statutes.


6. Check party affiliation requirements in your state

Being a poll worker is a nonpartisan activity, and your party affiliation will not affect your eligibility. That being said, some states use party affiliations to match poll workers to election locations in order to provide a fair and balanced voting experience. Check whether this practice is in place in your state at Fair Elections Center—and ensure you're comfortable with it—before filling out your application.


7. Sign up to be a poll worker

After ensuring that you're eligible and can commit to all that's asked of poll workers in your area, head over to Work Elections to fill out an application. It's as easy as selecting your state and county from a drop-down menu and entering some basic information.


8. Mark all important dates on your calendar

Most people know that Nov. 8 is the big day for midterm elections; however, many are unaware that poll workers are needed to cover shifts on other days as well. For example, most states offer early in-person voting, sometimes beginning as early as a month before election day. Poll workers are also needed for smaller state and local elections. Write down the full days or half days and times you're assigned to work so that nothing gets missed in the shuffle.


To read tips 9 through 37, click here.

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