OPINION: Save democracy; power the polls

I Voted Sticker
In anticipation of the November election, Michaela Fogarty PZ ‘22 encourages college students to become poll workers to preserve democracy — especially since many older citizens who typically act as poll workers are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. (Courtesy: Robert Couse-Baker via Wikimedia Commons)

Across the country, college students are working to make sure that our polling locations are staffed for the upcoming election. Claiming that mail-in voting is fraudulent, some of our national leaders have been calling to dismantle the U.S. Postal Service for the purpose of restricting mail-in voting. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that voting booths remain safely open and citizens continue to practice their right to vote. We all must do our part to ensure that the voting process is sustained in the November election. 

Every citizen of the U.S. has a unique experience and perspective that must be heard, and voting is the best way to do this. One of the best ways students can stay civically engaged this semester in quarantine is by volunteering to increase voter turnout. This comes in many forms: protesting to ensure the function of the USPS, registering voters, educating your peers about issues and even voting yourself. I also want to implore young people to work at polling places and vote centers on and around election day.

Election places must stay open in order to maximize voter turnout. For this to happen, we need poll workers. Poll workers are people who make election day run smoothly by setting up the sites, helping to operate the machines, passing out “I voted stickers,” assisting elderly or disabled citizens to vote and more. These dedicated citizens are necessary to promote a safe democracy.

The Problem

In the past, 56 percent of poll workers have been over the age of 60. Because this group is the most vulnerable to COVID-19, less people are volunteering to work. Now that mail-in voting is threatened, the demand for safe in-person voting booths may be higher than ever, yet we are facing a critical shortage of poll workers. Already this year, we have seen the effects of this shortage in primaries. 

For example, Washington D.C. lost 1,700 election workers and Kentucky consolidated voting booths to one per county due to a poll worker shortage. These are just two examples of how all over the country, due to the pandemic, fewer voting booths were open and lines were much longer, forcing citizens to decide between waiting or becoming disenfranchised. 

This is especially significant for voters who may not have the time nor resources to drive long distances and wait in long lines in order to vote. Poll workers are necessary in order to ensure that voting booths stay open in close proximity to an array of communities and everyone has equal access. America prides itself on being a democratic nation. However, if voting booths are limited, we are stripping many Americans of their right to vote. If this happens, America will not be governed by its population, but rather a small subset of individuals who are privileged enough to access voting booths.

The Solution

It is vital that young people protect democracy and take the burden off of older folks by becoming poll workers. In most counties, poll workers are paid. You can find this information and other eligibility requirements of your county by using this link. If you are interested in signing up, you can use this link, and your local elections office will get in contact with you.

Michaela Fogarty PZ ‘22 is from Palo Alto, CA. She is part of the Pomona Pitzer Lacrosse Team and is currently working with Campus Compact to increase voter turnout.

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