The Poll Workers Project recruits students for November

Photo Submitted by The Poll Workers Project

As election day approaches, students plan to exercise their right to vote. However, voters face some unique challenges during this time.

Among the long waits, the need for social distancing and the USPS changes that discourage vote-by-mail ballots, another issue arises: Who will work the polls for the upcoming election?

The U.S. is experiencing a nationwide poll worker shortage. Even before the pandemic, around 65% of jurisdictions struggled to recruit a sufficient number of poll workers.

Jurisdictions reported that it was either “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to recruit a good number of poll workers. Getting people to work at the polls has been a struggle, but an organization called the Poll Workers Project is determined to recruit students and young adults. 

According to Noah Goldstein, the founder of the Poll Workers Project, the project is “a non-partisan organization dedicated to registering young people to be poll workers.”

Goldstein and the organization want to recruit young adults for the voting process to run as smoothly and safely as possible.

“Most states don’t have the resources [or] experience to handle the influx of applications and ballots,” Goldstein said. “Many voters … will be forced to vote in person or not at all. In-person voting will play a large role in November’s election, and we need to recruit poll workers [to] prevent poll closures, allowing more people to vote safely.”

The Poll Workers Project was a response to the difficulties of in-person voting, as evidenced by this year’s primary elections. The long lines were just the start of the chaos. Many polling locations will soon experience closure and consolidation before the November election, resulting from the decline in the number of poll workers.

While ensuring absentee and vote-by-mail options are critical due to the dangers posed by COVID-19, in-person voting will still play a huge role in this year’s elections,” Goldstein said. “However, with the majority of the poll worker volunteer base in an at-risk age category, Georgia and the country will see closures and consolidations in polling places in November.”

Older people run most polls around the nation. In 2018, volunteers ages 61 and older, to whom the coronavirus poses an acute threat, accounted for 58% of poll workers in the U.S. Research by the CDC reports that around 80% of COVID-19-related deaths were among adults aged 65 and up.

Though COVID-19 affects people of all ages, younger people have a significantly lower COVID-19 infection and mortality rate. 

“These polling sites were not necessarily closed down for some capricious decision,” Goldstein told The State News. “They were actually closed down in large part because the poll worker volunteer base is largely older.”

The usual volunteers have been sidelined due to the pandemic. The Poll Workers Project is looking for the younger demographic to fill “the vacuum left” by older poll workers who are not working this year.

“[We need to] use our bodies in the fight for safer, more accessible, more open voting for everyone,” Goldstein said.

Closure of polling places deprives thousands of Americans of their right to vote. The Black community and lower-income communities are especially affected. This is reiterated in the Aug. 31 Atlanta case Anderson v. Raffensperger.

In his expert report, Stanford University professor of political science Jonathan Rodden relays the polls’ disproportionate wait times.

“In polling places where minorities constituted more than 90% of active registered voters, the average minimum wait time in the evening was 51 minutes. When whites constituted more than 90% of registered voters, the average was around six minutes,” the report stated.

Goldstein believes that by recruiting more poll workers through the project, issues such as these can be alleviated.

The organization currently operates virtually with members spread out over a couple of states. The group has been holding meetings once a week, since late June. 

“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 told The State News.

Goldstein had the original idea of The Poll Workers Project and sat with the vision before the group was formed.

Power the Polls is another initiative that hopes to recruit young adults. Partnered with The Poll Workers Project, Power the Polls has a similar structure to encourage young adults to work this November.

The Poll Workers Project is accepting applications to become a poll worker until the beginning of October. 

“Estimates say that we need at least 250,000 poll workers for the 2020 general election to ensure an adequate number of polling locations and to allow for safe and accessible voting for everyone,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein added that “with only eight volunteers needed per polling station in 2016, one volunteer can make a big difference.”

Georgia polls need at least 5,000 poll workers for November. 

“Most election boards I’ve spoken with have noted that they likely need more than the initial estimate because COVID may make folks back out, and there are always people who simply don’t show up,” Goldstein said.

Becoming a poll worker helps communities vote in not only presidential elections, but on the local level. 

“A lot of government is local, and a lot of the politics that actually impact people are local,” Goldstein told The State News.

“I’m proud to be a part of this group, working to alert people to the poll worker shortage in the US and how it affects the November election,” Goldstein tweeted.