(NewsNation) — Due in part to a contentious political environment, many communities have struggled to recruit poll workers. These workers are essential to the smooth operation of polling places as millions of Americans look to vote in the midterm elections.
In the face of this challenge, officials are getting creative about where they look for poll workers. Here are some of their strategies.
brewing up poll workers
Prior to the 2020 election, the state of Kentucky knew it would be facing problems finding poll workers. Secretary of State Michael Adams argued to the legislature that they would have to start broadening the pool of workers.
“I told them back in November of 2019, months before COVID … we have a crisis in recruiting poll workers. Most of our poll workers are senior citizens and in time they’re going to be aging out. We don’t see the younger generation stepping up and taking their place,” he said.
His office started working to reach younger Kentuckians and was able to largely staff the polls during the 2020 election. Adams credited a program they created that tapped local breweries to recruit poll workers with much of that success.
“I’d say the part of it that was most successful was reaching out to breweries … that’s kind of where the young, hip people hang out ,or so I’m told,” he said.
The state started putting QR codes on beer cans that allowed people visiting breweries to sign up to be poll workers or register to vote.
“It was such a novel, interesting idea that it got a lot more news coverage than the other things that we did,” he said.
In 2020, they added 5,000 workers through a number of campaigns including the brewery one, which was its largest. Adams said his office continued the brewery program this year and wineries are participating, as well.
recruiting young and old
As Adams noted, part of the challenge in recruiting more poll workers is reaching younger people. That’s something Cook County, Illinois (where Chicago is located) has been working hard at.
Sally Daly, the deputy clerk of communications at Cook County Clerk’s Office, explained that they’ve been doing outreach with high school students. Even before the students are old enough to vote, they can sign up to work the polls.
“We go into [high schools] and make a pitch to students .. .and let them know if they’re 16 years or older they can serve as an election judge. And we pay, they can make some money for a day and also serve their democracy,” she said.
The county is also working with Moraine Valley Community College, a local school, on a pilot program where 20 students are doing coursework on government and civics. The county is providing training to the students on election equipment, and they are expected to serve as election judges on Election Day.
“Moving forward, we will be working to expand this pilot program to other community colleges in suburban Cook County,” Daly said.
About three weeks ago, the clerk’s office also launched a campaign to recruit military veterans as poll workers.
Since then, 2,050 individuals contacted the office to volunteer as poll workers. She believes the majority of these individuals are veterans or friends and families of veterans.
In Kentucky, it’s the responsibility of political parties to recruit poll workers. Adams explained that he courted both parties to help drive recruitment.
“I use blindly political and ideological remarks for certain audiences,” he said. “I went to Democrats and I said, ‘If you don’t want voter suppression, help us open the polls, volunteer to be a poll worker.’ And I want to the Republicans and I said, ‘You don’t want to have a vote-by-mail system? If you want in-person voting, then you need to stand up and volunteer to work [the] polls.'”
PROTECTING POLL WORKERS
One of the challenges in recruiting poll workers is a contentious political environment that has included threats to workers’ safety.
Officials are responding to this by taking new measures to protect poll workers. Georgia, for instance, has set up a five-digit code that poll workers can text to report alarming activity.
Adams said it’s been important to demonstrate to poll workers that the state will support them.
“We actually passed a law this year to make (it) a felony to threaten or intimidate or harass any poll worker — actually any election worker, it was not just the poll workers, it was me and my staff, all of us, too,” he said. “But it’s been important for me to show folks that are on the fence about volunteering that we’ve got their backs.”