Across the United States, people are gearing up for Election Day on November 3, 2020 in the midst of continuing cultural, social, and political upheavals. As the nation continues to grapple with the enduring presence and lasting impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, this election season looks different than those in the past. The debate over mail-in voting versus in-person voting continues and the emphasis on the need to keep everyone safe and healthy continues to hold public discourse.
According to a recent study done by Democracy Works and the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, over one million poll workers are needed across the country to successfully run the election. Data scientists also found a significant poll worker shortage of over 200,000 people, another effect of the many challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The shortage of poll workers across the country is one of the factors that caused some voting locations to close during the primary election, leading to long lines and wait times. This creates barriers to voting across the country as many working Americans, particularly those in marginalized communities, cannot stand in line for hours, and therefore do not get the opportunity to vote.
Some experts, youth and professionals alike, advocate that the answer to this issue is to allow high school students to be poll workers. 46 states and the District of Columbia allow people as young as 16 or 17 years old to sign up to be poll workers to provide support for mail-in voting, early voting, and voting on Election Day. While there is a major push to have eligible young people register and vote in 2020, there are still millions of civically active students who are not yet eligible to use their voices through voting. In recognition of the national poll worker shortage and the high stakes of this election, young upstanders are stepping up to become poll workers and recruit their peers to do the same.
Below are two organizations, both founded in the last six months, run by young upstanders who advocate for young poll worker participation:
Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project
The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted the goals of many young people across the country. Recent graduates have come of age in the middle of a recession with few opportunities available. Evan Malbrough, a recent college graduate and young upstander from Georgia, recognized this issue and the lack of poll workers. In response, Malbrough created an initiative called the Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project to recruit young poll workers across the state. This work not only serves to financially support young people during the pandemic, but also serves as a call to action for young people to participate in their democracy and break down barriers to voting. The Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project hopes to recruit 5,000 young people by Election Day to help ensure a more just and equitable election.
Social media and digital engagement among young people have allowed for activism and collaboration across the United States. In the past year, as discussions of the 2020 election began to take hold of public discourse, a group of students at Princeton University and Denver East High School founded the Poll Hero Project. This nation-wide endeavor recognizes the importance of protecting democracy and taking a stand for racial justice by ensuring the polls are adequately and safely staffed. This initiative offers support and resources to recruit high school and college students to be poll workers on Election Day. Through detailed instructions, helpful resources, and support, these young upstanders have recruited over 10,000 young poll workers to stand up for their democracy and their future.
Facing History and Ourselves invites educators to access From Reflection to Action: A Choosing to Participate Toolkit and Teaching Resources for the 2020 US Election for tools geared towards involving young people in civic action.