The right to vote is a foundational pillar of democracy. Fair, secure voting allows our representatives to better account for the voices of their constituents to dictate local governance and policy more effectively. Unfortunately, voting as an institution and system has become increasingly complicated, inefficient, and the process of casting one’s ballot has become more difficult.
In order to uphold the American principle of “one person one vote,” our elections need help from the public to create a system that produces higher turnout to hear from all voices, but this is easier said than done. Many Americans face barriers and institutional factors that have created an ineffective system that has made it harder to vote in America.
Covid-19 has generated another obstacle that must be overcome to ensure a fair and efficient election this November. One clear example of the pandemic having an impact on our election is the massive deficit of poll workers registered to work the polls as fewer adults and elderly are volunteering because of Covid-19. With the upcoming 2020 November election being labeled as “the most important election in modern-day history,” this creates a scary reality.
Leo Kamin, the co-founder of Poll Hero, has become increasingly aware of the shortage of poll workers in this upcoming election. As a high school student from Colorado with an interest in politics, government, and civic engagement, he came across the opportunity to work the polls for the Colorado primary earlier in the spring. “I really liked the experience and I also saw my co-workers were much older (ages 70+). I started to understand the demographics of the people that normally work the polls. As we have [learned more about] the Coronavirus, adults and elders that would usually work the polls are really at risk” (Kamin). From that experience, reading articles of massive poll worker shortages, and seeing videos of long lines for voting, Leo knew this was a massive problem that needed to be addressed.
In collaboration with students from Princeton, Denver East High School, and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Poll Hero was created as an organizing effort to help Americans vote during a pandemic. At first, their efforts focused on enhancing and supporting a mail-in-ballot system for all states; however, they discovered that creating national legislation around mail-in voting and receiving federal funding would be incredibly challenging. “Especially trying to lobby the senate as a group of young people with few resources. Tackling the deficit of poll workers was more suited towards grassroots organizing,” says Leo (Kamin).
Their mission arrived at recruiting poll workers (specifically, Gen Z) to work the polls this coming election in November. In the 2018 midterm elections, "nearly 60 percent of poll workers were ages 61 and older. Because of COVID-19, far fewer older adults are volunteering to work the polls” (Barthel and Stocking). However, having a shortage of poll workers is not a new problem that our election system has faced. “Without a pandemic impacting our elections, nearly 70 percent of jurisdictions reported that for the 2018 elections it was difficult to recruit necessary poll workers. Now, it is predicted that a whopping 460,000 poll workers will be needed this year”(Kaldes). One may easily overlook these workers that are essential to ensure a well-functioning election, which led Poll Hero to mobilize their team to recruit workers to operate the polls this November. Without these poll workers, the elections cannot happen.
In less than two months, Poll Hero has recruited and signed up almost 22,000 poll workers - nearly 15,000 of whom were high school students. When Leo started this collaborative organization, he did not have a goal in mind, but he remembers the feeling of seeing the spreadsheet of people who signed up and was amazed. “The fact that we are at 22,000 blows my mind” (Kamin). Despite the progress made so far, he acknowledges the large deficit of poll workers, predicted to be nearly 460,000, and the incredible amount of work to be done as the election quickly approaches.
From starting locally in his home state to expanding Poll Hero’s recruitment campaign nationally, Leo has learned a lot about the complexities of our election system. Helping tens of thousands of people sign up to work the polls has shown that there are different requirements, forums, and ways in which people vote between all 50 states. This makes the mission of motivating individuals to become more civically engaged extremely difficult
Leo suggests creating a singular, streamlined system will make it easier to recruit individuals, apply for polling positions, and work the polls. As he said in our interview, “there are so many laws that I would like to see changed around elections. It seems that most of the regulations that we see these days are around making it more difficult for people to vote when really the problem that we have in the US is that not enough people turn out to vote'' (Kamin). Furthermore, he believes one major policy that could help increase turnout would be making the election a national holiday. “I think that would be a pretty easy thing to do. We see that if you are someone that works an hourly job, it is hard for you to take the time out of your day to vote, especially if there are long lines, for instance, if there is a lack of poll workers” (Kamin). Giving everyone the day off would help increase turnout and ensure that more marginalized communities are able to have their voices heard.
Leo and nearly 80 others of the Poll Hero team have already been discussing the next steps the organization can take on and after election day. “I know I personally will be working the polls and I think it is important for young people, especially for those who can't vote. Because I know in doing it myself, I saw the power of voting and how excited people were to do it and how much it meant to certain people” (Kamin). Leo and the Poll Hero team find that engaging young people under the age of 18 to work the polls is a great first step towards participating in our democracy as it gives them exposure and a sense of ownership over the voting process. After the election, they plan to continue the mission of recruiting young people to work the polls in elections to come.
In most places, there is no official deadline to apply to become a poll worker. A lot of recruitment happens days before the election. If you are interested in becoming a poll worker, visit pollhero.com and find out how you can contact your local election officials. Election disasters have become well documented and poll-workers only really scratch the surface of assuring just and equal elections. Nonetheless, it is a great way to participate in the election and do our part to support America’s Democracy.
Barthel, Michael, and Stocking, Galen. “Older People Account for Large Shares of Poll Workers, Voters in U.S. General Elections.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, July 2020.
Kamin, Leo. Interview. Conducted by Nikhil Inalsingh. September 19th, 2020.
Kaldes, Peter. “The Strength of Our Democracy May Hinge on Our Response to COVID.” TheHill, The Hill, 12 Sept. 2020,