Nationwide campaigns are encouraging a younger generation to work the polls during the pandemic.
This year, due to coronavirus concerns, many of the nation’s elderly are opting to stay away from the election polls and submit their absentee ballots in order to avoid the risk of contracting the potentially life-threatening virus. Prior to the pandemic, a survey had indicated more than 70% of workers were between 60-70 years of age but most states have witnessed a significant decline in this number, with Alaska, for instance, reporting 95% of Anchorage’s previous volunteers refusing to participate.
Organizations, therefore, are pooling together to try to recruit a younger crowd come November. A San Francisco web developer, for example, originally created an online site called Pizza to the Polls to assess whether people would be willing to donate funds to purchase pizza for those waiting in line to vote. From its meager beginnings, the initiative has grown into Power the Polls, which has so far recruited 450,000 of the “next generation of poll workers” with most of the respondents between the ages of 18 and 35.
Power the Polls’ website indicates, “America is facing a record shortage of poll workers this year due to the coronavirus. Our democracy depends on ordinary people who make sure elections run smoothly and everyone’s vote is counted. You can make sure we have a safe, fair, efficient election for all.” It adds that volunteers are paid and will receive training.
Susan Weiss, a poll worker in Bethesda, Maryland, who’s 74 and has been present on election day for the past sixteen years, decided it’s just too risky this year.
“I’m a very patriotic person. I felt this is just a duty that we should have, you know? So not doing it, it makes me sad,” she said. “And I feel a little selfish about it because there are people that are really putting themselves out there during this pandemic and I marvel at that, I marvel at our first responders. But should I get the virus, I’m quite concerned over my being able to survive it.”
The AARP and the Association of Young Americans are among the businesses stepping up to contribute to the cause, educating voters about the need for in-person poll workers and encouraging them to “sign up or show up” on the big day. Entities such as Comedy Central, the Fair Elections Center, Patagonia, Uber and others are also recruiting workers.
“It really does speak to the level of concern that all of these folks who normally aren’t on the same side of things see the need to come together and solve this big problem,” said Scott Duncombe, head of the Power of the Polls campaign.
“There is a need for us to sound the alarm,” agreed John Hishta, AARP’s senior vice president of campaigns to Fast Company, “And that’s why we’re working inter-generationally with these other folks.”
Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program echoed the importance of turning to a generation who traditionally may not have considered joining the effort. She said, “Everyone is working really, really hard to find poll workers right now. It’s a challenge that we are facing as a country, but it is a challenge that folks are trying really hard to meet. From checking in voters to collecting and tabulating ballots, election workers across the country handle the nuts and bolts of what we need to do to make our season run.” Every extra set of hands helps. Without a sufficient turn out, there may be unnecessary complications come November.