With one week until Election Day, election officials are scrambling to ensure a safe and orderly voting process. Even with an unprecedented number of ballots being cast absentee, millions will vote in person, and poll workers are critical to that running smoothly.
Even before the pandemic, election officials often struggled to attract enough poll workers. Making in-person voting safe and efficient during a pandemic will require creativity and extra precautions. With seniors at higher risk for serious complications from the novel coronavirus and transmission rates growing at alarming rates around the country, election officials and advocates have devoted serious resources over the past several months toward replenishing their ranks of poll workers.
In a rare bit of election-related good news, these efforts appear to have paid off in many jurisdictions. Earlier this year, Wisconsin struggled mightily to recruit enough poll workers. Even with assistance from the National Guard, Milwaukee was forced to cut the number of polling stations from 180 to five. Since then, officials in the state have seen a wave of new applicants. Milwaukee is on track to have 173 polling places open. In Madison, so many people stepped forward that officials had to cut off applications. With the oversupply, they can give poll workers shorter shifts and have teams on hand for rapid response if things go wrong. While other issues could plague the swing state on Election Day, it’s encouraging that statewide, Wisconsin is short only about 180 poll workers.
The view isn’t rosy everywhere — plenty of jurisdictions are still looking to recruit more poll workers. And the stakes are high — a shortage of poll workers could force officials to close polling stations or lead to hours-long lines that effectively disenfranchise would-be voters who cannot afford to wait. But jurisdictions around the country appear to be in far better shape than many feared.
Younger Americans have been particularly responsive to the call to relieve traditionally older poll workers, thanks in part to the Power the Polls campaign, a collaboration of nonprofits and businesses whose dedicated efforts have been amplified by a number of celebrities. Hopefully, this influx will mean a more sustainable workforce for decades to come.
Those who are able should still consider applying to work the polls if their local board of election is still hiring. A surplus is preferable since not everyone who applies will complete their training, and officials expect even some of those who are trained to drop out before Election Day.
There’s plenty that officials should still do to reduce the odds of a chaotic election — notably, enacting measures to allow ballots to be processed before Election Day. But the fact that thousands of Americans have stepped forward as new poll workers is a good reminder of how impactful the cumulative efforts of ordinary people can be during this election. Other ways to help: Vote early if you can, and be patient for results, which may not arrive on election night.