The unsung heroes of the election: student poll workers

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Photo by Isabelle Pala

Charlotte Guy

Sore feet, long hours, and preserving democracy—what do all of these things have in common? Poll workers. Most of these unsung heroes are senior citizens and retirees, but now much of the previous demographic is compromised due to COVID-19. This has left a vacuum for young people to volunteer and help with the critical, yet monotonous jobs that older citizens have traditionally taken up. Thousands of youth have volunteered to step up to the plate, putting themselves in the position to at least be considered to work at the polls. 

Junior Coco Rodriguez is planning on working as a poll worker at Murch Elementary School on three separate days for six-hour shifts. She has a couple of family members who have volunteered in this way so she wasn’t new to the idea. “My brother did it when he was younger, and my mom also works for PAE [an organization that deploys volunteers to oversee international elections], so she already knew background stuff about it,” Rodriguez explains.  

Rodriguez has also attended voting stations with her mom during previous elections, but she feels that the experience as a poll worker this election cycle will give her an even deeper understanding of the voting process. “I feel like most kids, even when they’re eligible to vote, they may not understand or get the process and it might make them a little nervous.”

The application process was relatively simple for Rodriguez, but she was also required to go to a six-hour in-person briefing. “They just show you the machines, how they work, how to interact with people at the voting station, what each job does, how to help people with special needs, just different stuff…the regulations,” she explained.  

Rodriguez’s main job as a poll worker is to hand out ballots. “I’ll have a scanner and I’ll print out their ticket and inform them how to fill it out the correct way and then how to put it into the machine once they’re done.” After her training, she was also required to take a quiz that went over all of the information that was given.

Junior Zach Rakotomaniraka signed up through Power of the Polls to be a poll worker like Rodriguez, but his experience has been quite different. Rakotomaniraka attended a Zoom conference with 22,000 other prospective poll workers for his briefing, making it slightly less conventional. Also in attendance were public figures like singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and basketball player Joshua Thompson, who were there to raise support for poll workers and voter attendance. “Pretty well-recognized people came to the Zoom and talked about why voting was important. And they just talked mainly about how to be a good poll worker, basically, just be respectful, be helpful…how to not have a racial bias or just bias in general,” Rakotomaniraka said.

Rakotomaniraka signed up to be a poll worker because he felt that it was important to contribute to the social justice movement that has been sweeping over the country. “It’s going to be a big election and it’s going to determine the next four years of the United States. So I wanted personally to be part of a movement that fosters change,” Rakotomaniraka said. 

However, he still doesn’t know if he has actually been picked to be a poll worker because not all people who sign up are selected. This is mainly because most polling organizations have received an unprecedented number of applications from younger generations who have stepped up in place of people who are at risk due to COVID-19. Junior Kenadi Burnett is one of many who was declined this opportunity. 

Burnett was excited to help the democratic process in her own way since she isn’t old enough to vote but was never contacted back by Poll Hero she had signed up through. “I never received contact from Poll Hero after reaching out to them through email. I never got a response back and then I ended up checking their website to find out that not everyone who signs up to be [a poll worker] will automatically be granted that [opportunity].” 

Regardless of whether they were chosen to work, the enthusiasm and commitment that these three students have shown is a beacon of hope for an equitable election this year.