The United States is facing a poll worker shortage in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the country has dealt with insufficient numbers in the past, 2020 is proving to be an especially difficult time to recruit. The majority of older people who typically work the polls are opting to stay home due to COVID-19.
For this reason, much of the focus for recruitment has been focused on high school seniors and college-aged people. If the country does not get the situation managed, especially states where the shortage is dire, in-person voting on election day faces a major threat.
Without a sufficient number of staffers to fill polling locations, voters on election day could be looking at extremely long wait times, or worse — closed polling places.
In an article by TIME, Commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Benjamin Hovland explained, “What we’ve heard from election officials is just a massive dropout of poll workers. That has real consequences. You can’t open polling places if you don’t have poll workers.”
This shortage has prompted Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to create an online poll worker tracking system, in which people have access to important staffer numbers in the state and its counties.
In a press release from the official Secretary of State website, LaRose states that “ ... Our innovative recruitment campaigns appear to have put Ohio in a far better position than other states,” but that Ohioans need to step up in order for the state to be able to meet its goal.
As of Oct. 15, Ohio needed 6,914 more people to staff locations — in Wood County, the number is only 47. Due to this nationwide shortage, and specific needs in Ohio and Wood County, students need to step up and take on the responsibilities that the older generations previously held.
At BGSU, two students, myself and graduate student Charis Hoard, were selected in early September to act as WorkElections fellows in collaboration with Campus Vote Project and Power the Polls. We have been hard at work and have recruited some 110 poll workers as of Oct. 15.
Hoard said, “I feel like we’ve done a lot in such a short time, but there’s still more that can be done. Wood County is such a big county and we need as many poll workers as we possibly can to have more polling places open on Nov. 3.”
Hoard continued, “Students are not only in university to learn about their prospective careers, but to become more involved and informed members of our society. Getting involved in our democracy is a great way to start. (Becoming a poll worker) also shows how important it is that we all take voting seriously and keep our elections free and fair for all.”
Unless under the age of 18, workers must be registered to vote in the county they are planning to work in. Pay is typically between $100 and $200 depending on county and state, unpaid training is required and staffers work the whole day, roughly 15 hours.
If interested, visit one of these three links for more information on eligibility, payment, hours and how to register: powerthepolls.org/CVPM for the Midwest, powerthepolls.org/CVPE for the East Coast or powethepolls.org/CVPS for the West Coast or South.