There is a disease spreading throughout our nation’s polling locations. The graying of America is seen most potently behind the polls. Poll workers in America have an average age in the 70s, significantly older than the average age of AARP members (64). The current elderly class of civic-minded individuals who have fulfilled their civic duty responsibly for decades have been leaving out of confusion with new technology and the effects of their old age. As this void continues to grow, more and more options will need to be considered by state and local legislatures in order to ensure that elections go smoothly. This is the first post in a series about what could be done to help solve the problem of disappearing poll workers.
Young people are the future leaders of this country, but some local election laws could be more conductive to this passing of the torch as poll workers. States could learn from one another in this respect. Massachusetts passed a law in 2008 which allowed poll workers as young as 16. 29 other states allow poll workers to be under the age of 18. Arizona allows 16 and 17 year old high-school students to miss the day of school to be a poll worker (with parental permission), and even pays them for their service. There may be some concerns about the ability of minors to act as competent poll workers, but the minors are usually well supervised. The immediate reaction to this legislation in most states has been positive, including in Minnesota, where Secretary of State Mark Ritchie remarked the 16 and 17 year old poll workers “have been a burst of energy” and “a big success.”
There is still a need for more action. Another requirement that is getting in the way of potential poll workers is that they are required to be registered to vote in the district they work. Not only do these law restrict the ability of overflow workers to be placed in needy districts (some precincts in D.C. titled some non-district student workers as ‘Poll Technicians’ to circumvent the law ), but they make it more difficult for individual districts to recruit poll workers. Poll workers should be broadly recruited to allow maximum utilization of those who want to help. Young people who have the energy should to be able to travel to that next district over to fill an empty spot.
Recruitment can also be dramatically improved in most jurisdictions. Missouri is currently looking to young people to fill the gaps left by the older generation who have left due to the new electronic polls. The biggest problem, however, appears to be just informing young people that they have the opportunity to become poll workers. The federal government is lending a hand. Through the Election Assistance Commission, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has been doling out grants to programs developed to recruit and train the next generation of poll workers in the College Poll Worker Program. The website above has some brilliant ideas to help recruit younger voters such as using new-age promotional techniques like Facebook and Twitter, as well as offering online training and evaluation to cater to a young person’s prowess. While these programs are successful, your local town/city/village does not need a federal grant to recruit young people to exercise their civic muscles. Facebook, Twitter, online registration, flyering campuses/schools, so many of these options are or nearly are cost-free. There just needs to be willing leadership and maybe a slight push in the right direction (younger!) Who knows, maybe getting young people involved in working polls will even increase the number of their peers who vote.
There are too many problem areas and too many examples of worthwhile solutions to those to be mentioned here. Hopefully as a younger generation begins to take over the polls, the problems will begin to minimize and Election Day will be closer to a successful experience for every American. Being and becoming a poll worker should be a simple, straightforward, and rewarding experience for every willing American, young and old.
Alex Grout is a student at William & Mary Law School and an editor at State of Elections.