By Karen Stokes
The election to decide who will be the next president of the United States is in six weeks and this election may be the most important one in our lifetime. The election has already been hindered by the pandemic, questions of the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail on time for mail-in voting and the ability to recruit poll workers.
A handful of Princeton students and Denver East High School students, supervised by a University of Chicago Booth School of Business graduate, started the Poll Hero Project this summer. The project focused on the recruitment of poll workers when experts across the country convinced them that a lack of poll workers was one of the most significant unmet needs in the proper functioning of the 2020 election.
Benjamin Bograd, a rising junior at Princeton University, leads one of the college’s outreach teams for the Poll Hero Project.
“I joined the project roughly two weeks in after seeing posts about it on social media. I knew I wanted to get involved during this election cycle, and working to ensure all Americans can vote seemed like a perfect way to do my part,” Bograd said.
“My team and I contact student leaders and professors at colleges in cities across the country where there is a significant need for poll workers. Our goal is for them to pass our message along to a broader audience, spreading our message and encouraging students to sign up to work the polls in their hometown.”
In Milwaukee, during the spring election a lack of poll workers resulted in many polling places being closed.
“In the April 7 spring election, they had only five polling places,” said Claire Woodall-Vogel, executive director, Milwaukee Election Commission. “Right now, we’re at 173 polling places.”
“The average national age of poll workers is 62, which in the age of COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented shortage,” Bograd said. “This is why we are targeting our outreach to young students who are more comfortable accepting the risk that comes with working at a polling location.”
But as COVID-19 is still negatively impacting the health of Americans with over 200,000 deaths due the virus, poll workers need assurance they will be safe.
“Ideally, jurisdictions will provide their poll workers with the necessary PPE to perform their job safely. The CDC also has a list of recommendations to keep election officials and poll workers safe, which we are encouraging all poll workers to follow,” Bograd said.
Anyone interested in working as a poll worker can sign up at pollhero.org. Their volunteers can guide people through the entire process of registering.
You can also call Milwaukee’s Election Commission at 414-286-3491 or register at (https://city.milwaukee.gov/election/Helpmilwaukeevote/Election-Inspector-Application).
“After completing the application they will receive an email to sign up for virtual training,” said Woodall-Vogel. “If someone is not comfortable going on the internet, we are still having some small group classes later in October.”
“Also of note, poll workers are paid for their time. Workers are also paid for the mandatory training they must undergo,” Bograd said.
The Poll Hero Project is not political but a civic action by young Americans.
“While the two are often intertwined, I view working the polls as a civic action. Helping ensure polling locations open allows all American citizens to fulfill their constitutional right to vote. For this reason, we work hard to ensure that the Poll Hero Project remains non-partisan,” Bograd said.
“Milwaukee still needs help. The Election Commission seeks to operate over 200 polling locations and needs 1,400 volunteers to do so. So far, we have signed up over 250 people through the Poll Hero Project to work in Milwaukee,” Bograd said.