The November election is just around the corner, and polling places across the country are gearing up to ensure safe voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the most pressing challenges is the national poll worker shortage — a prevalent obstacle Wisconsin faced in the spring primary with a 60% decrease in poll workers across the state.
As the City of Madison searches for poll workers to fill in the gaps, Tamia Fowlkes, the Big Ten Voting Challenge intern for the Morgridge Center for Public Service, offers her insight into the value of working the polls this fall and during a pandemic.
Why is it important for people to volunteer as a poll worker?
It’s important to volunteer as a poll worker, especially as a young person, because we fill a growing gap in poll workers which has emerged as a consequence of COVID-19 which has limited the ability of older populations to participate in poll work.
In addition, understanding this crucial aspect of our democratic process is both fun and exciting. When we understand what goes on at the polls we are more well equipped to direct and guide others to vote there.
What’s it like working the polls?
Working the polls is a lot of fun! The best part is getting to meet people and being the friendly face at the polling location in which your peers, friends and community vote at. When you work the polls you will usually arrive at the beginning of your shift and be given a job such as working the poll book, sitting at the greeting table or handing out voter slips.
Through teamwork, you and your fellow poll workers facilitate the most effective process as possible for people to vote quickly and correctly and ensure that lines stay relatively short.
What is your experience working as a poll worker, and recruiting others to join?
My experience working the polls has been wonderful! I’ve worked the polls at every election since I arrived on campus as a freshman and learn something new every time. The best part about this process for me has been asking my friend to work shifts with me after class which can ultimately make working the polls even more fun.
Every election that you return for, you feel more confident in your skills as a leader at your polling location which is such a cool experience.
How is the experience different amidst COVID-19?
There are definitely more safety measures in place for poll workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. There are plexiglass shields, face shields, masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectants throughout the polling location to ensure that we can continue cleaning the space and pens after voters enter and exit the polling location.
We also try to socially distance as a staff, but most importantly wear masks to protect one another. The pandemic has also revealed a lot of disparities which other communities encounter in relation to voting, which is why poll workers are so essential. Though it is best to work the polling location in your ward and area, there are certainly communities where dismal poll worker staffs contribute to voter suppression through long line wait times or the complete closure of some polling locations because they don’t have enough people to staff them. This makes working the polls increasingly important, so definitely do your research!
What is the most rewarding part of being a poll worker?
The most rewarding part about being a poll worker is knowing that you contributed to the democratic process and get to see it play out. Nothing ensures a greater trust in our political system than knowing that there are thoughtful well-intentioned people, who might even be your peers, trying to make sure that you have access to a fair and accessible vote.
Working the polls also demystifies a lot of the confusion that people usually feel in relation to voting, plus if you work the polls in Wisconsin you can register to vote when you get to your polling location or vote right before your shift!
To learn more about being a poll worker and working at the polls, you can follow the Pod-cast Your Vote on Spotify led by Vote Everywhere Ambassador Shreya Bandyopadhyay and BadgersVote Coalition intern Tamia Fowlkes.