The Importance of Being a Poll Worker this Election

Image courtesy of @pollheroproject on Instagram

The United States is experiencing a poll worker shortage.

Election officials across the country are scrambling to find enough people to work the polls on Election Day on November 3rd so that polling locations can remain open. Poll working has been drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as poll workers are disproportionately older, and therefore at a higher health risk. Many of these citizens have chosen to stay home this November, leaving a gaping hole in the country’s polling station workforce.

This need is especially acute in Philadelphia, which typically requires 8,500 poll workers to staff its 800+ polling locations. Philadelphia only had 2,500 during June’s primary election, leaving a 77% reduction in the number of active polling stations. As a result, voters faced travel complications, longer lines, and a risk of COVID-19 infection.

The Poll Hero Project, a nonprofit startup that formed this summer, has already recruited over 20,000 high school and college students to work the polls. The group does outreach to students and schools around the United States and helps walk participants through the oftentimes complicated and bureaucratic process of becoming a poll worker.

Because of concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, mail-in voting will likely be much more popular this November. However, not everyone will vote via mail-in ballots for a variety of reasons, most notably the potentially slowed-down mail system.

The Poll Hero team, comprising mostly high school and college students from across the country (including some from Friends Select), recruits students primarily in battleground states to take part in the project. Sierra Wei ‘21, a Poll Hero volunteer, is working on outreach to colleges. “Currently, [my team is] working in Charlotte, NC,” she says. “We reach out to different groups and individuals within each college. We try to either get people to sign up to be poll workers themselves, or have them spread [word of] the opportunity to others.”

It is imperative that young people step up on Election Day, because every voter must be able to cast their ballot safely and securely, and that cannot happen without enough poll workers. The outcome of the election could depend on the number of polls open in cities like Philadelphia.

This is why members of the FSS community who will be 17 by Election Day (or 16, if they live in New Jersey) should consider becoming poll workers. Not only is it a crucial step towards protecting democracy and ensuring equitable voting access, but it also has benefits for individual poll workers, including up to $250 of pay, a great resumé addition, and the opportunity to serve your local community.

Sierra, who has signed up to be a poll worker herself, says: “I decided to sign up because I think it’s crucial for everyone to have the ability to vote…I hope that through my work with the Poll Hero project, I can better peoples’ voting experiences.”

Ewilca Nicholas ‘21, who will be working the polls this November as well, agrees: “I need to help my community. This summer and COVID really opened my eyes and reminded me why it’s so important to vote. Plus, I’m voting this year, so why not help others vote?” Even for 17-year-olds who won’t be able to vote this year, poll working can be an opportunity to participate in democracy and make an impact on the election.
If this sounds like you (or if you want to make $250!), join Sierra, Ewilca, me, and hundreds of other students in the Philadelphia area who are protecting democracy, and sign up at