Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many poll worker volunteers in Pennsylvania are at a high health risk and have not signed up for the upcoming election, missing the 40,000 volunteer requirement by a few thousand. Luckily, civic engagement organizations have been calling for more support from less vulnerable populations, giving teenagers an opportunity to participate in the election.
According to the PEW Research Center, nearly 58% of the poll workers in the 2018 general election were 60 years old or older, the same demographic that is most at risk during the pandemic. Because of their vulnerability and the pandemic, most poll workers were not able to volunteer, affecting the 2020 primaries.
“Due to the ongoing COVID 19 Pandemic, we did consolidate [primary election] polls in an effort to have poll workers not as spread out and able to assist each other.” Matt Macekura, the Montgomery County Voter Services Administrator, said.
Macekura also noted that there is not a shortage of Montgomery County volunteers for the upcoming election, having “received an overwhelming amount of people interested in taking part in the election.” While there is no exact record of who has volunteered in place of older workers, he believes that the majority of support has come from less vulnerable demographics.
The support from less vulnerable demographics can be traced to many organizations calling for younger volunteers. One organization in particular has been finding support from high school and college students. Poll Hero only started to recruit teenagers this year, but has amassed 25,000 volunteers across the nation this month.
“…[W]e have definitely had a lot of success in targeting this specific demographic [of teenagers]. So I think it can be assumed that there are high numbers of high school volunteers this year!” Poll Hero representative Grace Sykes said.
The Poll Hero project was founded by students to protect democracy and maintain elections whether voting in-person or by mail. “… I know that we have kept a great deal of polling stations open, protecting the right to vote for so many Americans. My greatest hope would be that voter turnout will increase this year, but we can only wait and see.” She noted.
Sykes described the project as a way to make “a tangible difference in [the] American system of government” while also “actively trying to encourage civic engagement among youth.” She also said that the project’s impact is shown in the passion evident in every participant of Poll Hero.
“You can feel this energy and excitement in every zoom meeting, every email, and every interaction,“ she said.
Though times may seem uncertain and unprecedented, the Poll Hero project creates a sense of stability by connecting passionate students. “Almost every volunteer is in college or high school, and they are dedicating so much time to make sure as many polling locations are kept open as possible. It’s a wonderful thing to watch and be a part of.”
While the pandemic has created obstacles for a normal year, concerned and passionate individuals have taken a stand to the shortage and the place of older, vulnerable people to promote unity, protect democracy, and engage civically.
Source: Pewresearch.org, Pittsburgh.cbslocal.com, Pollhero.org