As a result of those who typically work the polls on Election Day taking the year off due to coronavirus-related reasons, The Poll Workers Project, a self-organized and non-partisan group, is seeking to register young people to be poll workers.
The Poll Workers Project assembled after in-person voting in areas like Milwaukee, Atlanta and Louisville was critically set back when polling places were closed and consolidated, leading to voters waiting in line several hours and the rejection of many voters after the few remaining precincts closed.
According to Noah Goldstein, the founder of the group, a solution to the agonizing wait times and denial of votes is to increase the number of staff working the polls.
“The idea for the group came from, ‘OK, what’s a viable solution to this?’ and the solution that I thought of, at least, was let's try and get some young people to volunteer to be poll workers and try to fill the gap of folks that are not volunteering this year,” Goldstein said.
The premise of the project — getting young people to work polling precincts — came as a result of how COVID-19 has impacted the general older population in comparison to the younger demographic.
“The reason why I thought that was a valid option was because upon doing a little bit of research, you see that these polling sites were not necessarily closed down for some capricious decision,” Goldstein said. “They were actually closed down in large part because the poll worker volunteer base is largely older.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 58% of poll workers in the 2018 presidential election were older than 60.
However, in the midst of a pandemic in which people older than 60 count for nearly 29% of Michigan’s confirmed cases and over 87% of its confirmed deaths as of Aug. 31, many poll workers have decided to sit this election out, leaving many positions to be held by younger people who do not see as high of death rates due to COVID-19.
Additionally, two-thirds of jurisdictions struggled to recruit an adequate number of poll workers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Thus, Goldstein and a fellow member of the Poll Workers Project, Jimmy Lengyel, assert the importance of young people and college students taking the responsibility of working the unique November election this year.
“It’s an entryway to be able to be a lifetime participant in your local government,” Lengyel said.
According to Goldstein, one thing that young people will get out of working at a polling precinct on Election Day is a new way of looking at how all politics affects them, not just the big presidential races.
“Becoming more involved and thinking about it more up-and-down the ballot instead of just 'there’s an election every four years' is really important because a lot of government is local, and a lot of the politics that actually impact people are local,” Goldstein said.
Additionally, poll workers typically get paid state minimum wage for their service, according to Goldstein.
A greater number of poll workers also allows for the minimization of the risk of coronavirus transmission, especially when masks are not required in polling places per an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Chair of East Lansing’s Precinct 5 Teresa Bell said volunteers did a lot of safety upkeep by sanitizing voting booths as soon as a voter exited, which made the voting process much less stressful.
“Actually, it’s been easier because of the amount of volunteers,” Bell said.
And, in addition to gaining knowledge of politics and government and reducing the spread of COVID-19, working at a polling place puts one in a position to allow all voices to be heard, not just the ones they are typically exposed to or hold themselves.
“For me, it’s been super awesome to think … that I’ll be able to help aid everyone have their voices heard, no matter the result of the election and no matter where people fall (on the political spectrum),” Lengyel said.
For more information about the Poll Workers Project, their Twitter can be found here and their Instagram can be found here.
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Additionally, one can apply to work the November election at mi.gov/DemocracyMVP.
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