By Ryan Pierannunzi | August 26, 2020
The current pandemic is testing our nation’s election infrastructure like never before.
Holding national elections in a country as populous as ours is always a massive undertaking, but doing so under present conditions creates many additional hurdles. One of the most glaring of these challenges is an impending poll worker shortage that could shutter polling places in states across the country, create longer wait times to vote, and effectively disenfranchise many voters this fall.
According to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), more than 900,000 poll workers served during the 2016 elections. Of the poll workers who provided age information to the EAC, more than half were over the age of 60. Given that older people tend to be in a high-risk category with respect to COVID-19, there is concern that many traditional poll workers may, understandably, be reluctant or unable to serve. This means that election administrators could face a shortage of hundreds of thousands of poll workers this fall. One needs only to look at what happened in some recent primaries to get an idea of how this shortage could impact voting in November.
In order to ensure we have a free and fair election this fall, we must help make certain that election administrators across the country have the staff necessary to carry out their responsibilities.
Even before the pandemic, Fair Elections Center recognized the need to recruit new individuals to join the current pool of poll workers across the country, in order for poll workers to better reflect the communities of voters they serve. Many states and jurisdictions have a need for poll workers who speak multiple languages and/or are tech-savvy.
Several years ago, Fair Elections Center developed WorkElections.com, an online tool that compiles poll worker requirements and application links for thousands of jurisdictions in states across the country. It provides a central source of simplified information for interested individuals who may not know how or where to apply. This easy-to-use website contains a simple search tool that allows visitors to select their state, enter their location, and receive jurisdiction-specific requirements and links to applications.
In June, we partnered with many other groups to launch PowerthePolls.org, a collaboration of organizations from the private and nonprofit sectors. This new initiative, containing data from our WorkElections web portal, expands the scope of recruitment efforts and seeks to reach and enlist hundreds of thousands of new poll workers.
The growing partnership includes a wide variety of nonprofit, service, and private-sector organizations, all committed to strengthening civic engagement and the health of our democracy. Partners include the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, the Civic Alliance, MTV, Comedy Central, Uber, Patagonia, Levi Strauss & Co., the United Way, and the Time to Vote coalition, plus many more.
The Power the Polls coalition is off to a strong start towards the goal of helping to recruit hundreds of thousands of poll workers for the November election. Our next major recruitment effort will happen on Tuesday, September 1, which the EAC has announced is National Poll Worker Recruitment Day.
Additionally, Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project is organizing and recruiting college students across the country to serve as poll workers.
Most poll workers are paid for their service, and the amount varies depending on where you are working. Serving as a poll worker in your community is an impactful, concrete step you can take to ensure that all voters’ voices are heard this fall. Find out more about being a poll worker in your area, including how to apply, by visiting PowerthePolls.org.
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