Conducting a modern presidential election in the midst of a pandemic is a challenging endeavor, to say the least. While many states are working to make mail-in voting possible for their constituents, there’s still a huge need for volunteers to run in-person voting stations.
It’s not the first time poll workers have been hard to come by. As election law analyst Jonathan Diaz writes for CNN, district feedback after the 2018 elections revealed that around two-thirds of reporting jurisdictions had difficulty procuring volunteers. It’ll likely be even tougher this year, in part because most poll workers are usually older Americans, and some might forgo volunteering to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19. Furthermore, the increase in early in-person voting options means districts will require even more volunteers than usual.
If districts can’t secure enough poll workers, they may have to reduce the number of polling locations. Not only could this impact voter turnout, but it could also make voting less safe: maintaining social distance isn’t easy in a long, cramped queue, and waiting around prolongs your exposure to pathogens.
In short, it’s critically important for people—especially young people without preexisting conditions—to volunteer at the polls this year. And volunteer doesn’t necessarily mean work for free; many jurisdictions pay their poll workers, and that often includes whatever time you spend in a training session. Other details, like eligibility requirements, application process, and day-of duties also vary by district. If you’re free on or around Election Day (November 3), you can find information about becoming a poll worker by choosing your state and district on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s website here.