Young People Are Creating a New Generation of Enthusiastic Poll Workers
Updated: Jan 19
TIME, Raisa Bruner:
“I knew I wanted to do something to make sure every North Carolinian who wanted to vote would be able to,” Lucas says; he’s also part of the Campus Vote Project, a national organization that coordinates college student voting plans. “We’re really excited about it, and as young people we really want to contribute.”
Those who have gotten signed up and trained have heard talk in the media of potential violence at the polls. President Trump has called for his supporters to keep an eye on their polling locations, and groups like the white supremacist organization the Proud Boys have been the alleged sources of recent voter intimidation. But none of the poll workers who spoke to TIME expressed serious concerns about interference, nor had they witnessed it at early voting locations. “It sort of makes me nervous in a larger sense,” says Mitchell, “but when I think of the poll station where I work, the polling places that I know of… I feel like everybody knows each other.”
EAC Chairman Hovland backs up Mitchell’s observation. “From our partners in law enforcement, I’m not hearing anything,” he says. “The biggest thing is, there are rules and laws and parameters that govern who can be in the polling place.” Further, 48 states mandate that workers are split across party lines, ensuring a bipartisan experience. Hovland is more concerned about misinformation and disinformation spreading at large in advance of Election Day, he says—a concern that was validated this week when intelligence officials announced that Russia and Iran had acquired U.S. voter information for targeted misinformation. Still, he maintains that working in an election is the easiest way to be reminded of the checks, balances and security measures that are built into the democratic process.
“Poll workers are really the unsung heroes of our democracy,” Hovland says. “You have the chance to be the customer service face of our democracy.” Including more young people means there will be more friendly faces for first-time voters to relate to, even if they don’t have prior experience. College student Charles Conner, who will be a first-time poll worker this year, put it a little more bluntly: “It’s a job that needs to be done. It’s good work, it helps your community, and you’re rewarded for your efforts.”
In elections past, the biggest concerted effort from non-partisan groups has usually been to get out the vote. But this year’s push for new poll workers, supported by upstart organizations like Power the Polls and the Poll Hero Project and more established groups like the Campus Vote Project, has been fruitful. In June, Scott Duncombe, now the co-director of Power the Polls, had the modest goal of recruiting 1,000 new poll workers to hand out free pizzas to people waiting in line to vote through his Pizza to the Polls organization. That snowballed: after teaming up with other groups recruiting poll volunteers, Power the Polls has surpassed their targets for sign-ups every month so far. It’s exciting from a civic engagement perspective, but he’s trying to keep his efforts focused on making sure everyone is “having a good time and not get wrapped up in the anxieties that a lot of people are feeling right now.” That focus on fun might be the secret to the organization’s success.
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