Polling locations look to recruit younger employees following COVID-19

Lauren Abel

Polling locations across the country have faced staffing shortages for the upcoming election as a result of COVID-19, prompting the recruitment of younger workers.

One group trying to reduce the shortage is the Poll Workers Project, a nonpartisan organization registering young people as poll workers, said Noah Goldstein, founder of the Poll Workers Project. The group is part of Power the Polls, one of the largest national recruitment initiatives searching for poll workers to staff in-person voting locations.

“Because the normal poll worker base is so much older, and because a lot of them are not going to volunteer, we have a shortage,” Goldstein said. “This shortage means fewer polling locations and longer lines, which leads to people having to wait for hours.”

In 2018, around six in 10 employees at polling locations were 61 or older, according to an article by the Pew Research Center. This year, health and safety concerns have caused a drop in enrollment from older individuals as roughly eight in 10 of COVID-related deaths have involved adults 65 years or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Students can sign up to work the polls at the Power the Polls website, which offers instructions and resources to sign up at locations across the country. Individuals who are registered to vote in Travis County can also sign up through the Travis County Clerk Elections Department

Travis County requires all poll workers to be above the age of 16 or registered to vote in Travis County, according to the Travis County website. Poll workers can receive between $10 and $12 an hour, according to the website.

Emily Clark, a government and rhetoric and writing senior, worked as a poll attendant during the primary races in July.

“The process was super easy, all you had to do was fill out the application,” Clark said.

Clark said she was required to attend a three-hour training prior to working the polls. For the 2020 elections, poll workers must be available to work between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m, according to the Travis County Clerk website. Students may work at multiple polling locations around Travis County, including two on the UT campus. 

“I’m working at the FAC, but there’s also a location at Gregory for students to work on campus,” Clark said. 

UT Student Government’s Hook the Vote is also working to provide resources for students to work the polls while still keeping up with their classes.

“We are writing legislation in UT Student Government to support students becoming poll workers,” said Ainsley Dorsey, co-director of Hook the Vote. “We are making connections with faculty to see if they could support students taking time off class to be poll workers.”

If people are not able to work the polls, Goldstein said the next best way to help is to spread the word about the lack of poll workers.

“The best thing people can do — besides being a poll worker, if they’re able and willing — is to tell their friends about it and reach out to organizations they’re involved in,” Goldstein said.

Editor's note, Sept. 16: This story has been corrected to reflect that people who are registered to vote in Travis County can sign up to work the polls through the Travis County Clerk Elections Department, not the Austin County Clerk Elections Department.

Editor's note, Sept. 17: This story has been corrected to reflect that the founder of the Poll Workers Project is named Noah Goldstein, not John Goldstein.