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COVID-19 Prompts Recruitment Of New Generation Of Poll Workers

Trevor Bexon
Election poll workers wear masks during the 2020 primary election day in Nevada.

Finding election poll workers is usually a challenge, but it’s even harder this year.

With only two months until a national election, election offices around the Mountain West are working to recruit new poll workers to replace previous ones, many of which are older retirees opting out this year due to the threat of COVID-19.

Take Idaho. Hailey Hicks is the election supervisor in Canyon County there. Between 100 to 150 people have signed up to work polls, Hicks said, “But we need closer to 600 to feel comfortable and confident with having enough staffing for each location.”

So election officers are turning more to the younger generation – even highschoolers. Every Mountain West state except Montana has a youth poll worker program to hire kids as young as 16.

Ryan Pierannunzi is project manager with the Work Elections project, the group behind a recruitment initiative called Power The Polls, which has a range of influential partners, including MTV, Comedy Central, Uber and SnapChat.

“And various partners are doing recruitment on college campuses, too,” he said. “It’s really going to take all hands on deck, and the strengths of our coalition is how many audiences we’re speaking to and getting the word out to.”

He says they’re even working directly with county election offices to try and get enough poll workers so polling places won’t have to close.

According to its website, "Power the Polls is focusing on healthy, low-risk candidates to ensure that those workers most susceptible to the coronavirus are given the space to take care of their health, while still keeping polling sites open and available for efficient in-person voting.”

In 2016, more than half of the nation’s poll workers were over 60, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

If you’d like to sign up to be a paid poll worker, you can do that through a county elections office or through powerthepolls.org.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.