Save Democracy by Becoming a Poll Worker

By McKenzie Schwark
Feature Writer

The general election is coming up, and the nation is facing a possible severe poll worker shortage due to the pandemic.

Poll workers are essential to a fair and free election, and ensure the right for everyone to vote. Becoming a poll worker is a great way to get involved and save our democracy!

What is a poll worker?

The term poll worker refers to a person staffed at a polling place on an election day. Poll workers (a.k.a. election clerks, election judges, inspectors or commissioners) are there to greet and assist voters, and ensure that the voting process goes smoothly. Duties can include checking in voters, answering voter questions, setting up voting machines, and troubleshooting any issues voters face. Some states pay their poll workers for both working election day and attending a training session! 

Why become a poll worker this year?

If you’re interested in becoming involved with the upcoming election, becoming a poll worker is a great way to do so. The majority of poll workers are over sixty years old, putting them in the at-risk category for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year, it’s crucial to fill polling places with younger people who are not in the at-risk category for COVID-19. (That means you, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z!)

We have already seen the negative effects of not having enough poll workers in 2020. Earlier this year, Wisconsin moved forward with in-person voting for their local election despite COVID-19 concerns. Although city maintenance workers were able to punt and quickly equip polling spots with plexiglass shields, disposable pens, and touch screens, Wisconsin faced a shortage of 7,000 poll workers. In Georgia, a shortage of poll workers for the primary election left voters waiting hours in line. 

This year, mail-in voting is expected to increase, but in-person voting can be vital to some of our more vulnerable communities. People with certain disabilities require an accessible machine to vote, some folks aren’t able to register for mail-in voting online, and poorer communities tend to experience worse mail service. Over the last several years nearly one thousand polling places have closed across the United States, primarily in black communities in southern states. 

In an interview with NPR, Susan Weiss, a 74-year-old former poll worker, called becoming a poll worker “nonpartisan, democracy-saving stuff.” And it really is! Adequately staffing polling places with poll workers is essential to keeping those polling places open, and ensuring voters have friendly, informative (and masked in 2020) faces to greet them and accurately walk them through the voting process. 

How does one become a poll worker?

Each state has slightly different requirements and perks for their poll workers. To check your state’s individual requirements and submit an application you can visit https://www.workelections.com/