Despite the millions of Americans who serve as poll workers in each federal election, there remains a chronic shortage of election workers in the United States.
In 2016, for example, nearly 65 percent of jurisdictions reported some level of difficulty in obtaining a sufficient number of poll workers. As a result recruiting, training, managing and retaining election workers is constantly on the minds of election officials.
Still, the poll workers that election officials are able to recruit often do not represent the overall diversity of jurisdictions as a whole. Data from the 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey shows that 24 percent of poll workers were 71 or older and another 32 percent were between the ages of 61 and 70. The youngest and least represented category – the 18 to 25 age range that made up just 4.6 percent of election workers in 2016 –is of particularly interest to me because it represents a largely untapped resource that has the potential for a broad and long-lasting impact.
The EAC has done much to encourage the recruitment of young people as election workers. An initiative I am particularly proud of is the agency’s multi-year “College Program” grants that have encouraged student participation as election workers.
Effective campus recruitment and management of college poll workers, many of who may be engaging with the voting process for the first time, takes time, however these students can bring much to the table as election workers. By leveraging the talents of an eager, tech-savvy generation, election officials can foster the next generation of poll workers and civic leaders, relieve current poll worker shortages and increase the diversity of their election workforce.
Early engagement in the election process also encourages lifelong voting and helps young people foster deeper connections in their own community. Recruiting young people may also increase the number of bilingual election workers and go a long way towards ensuring election workers reflect the diversity of the community they serve.
Election officials now find themselves in a time of great challenges and great opportunities. America’s young people are interested in giving back to their communities and advancing democracy. When both these entities come together in service of a common goal, the result is often a mutually beneficial relationship with far-reaching impacts, as can be seen with the City of Minneapolis’ Student Election Judge Program and Hamilton County Board of Elections’ “Youth at the Booth” program.
As election administrators look to the future of elections in the United States, their key priorities should be educating and engaging the voters they serve. This should begin with the young people coming of age in our democracy.
The EAC offers practical, replicable and sustainable strategies for recruiting, training and retaining student election workers in its Guidebook for Recruiting College Poll Workers. Young people, or any voter, looking to become a poll worker on Election Day can get started here.