Experts Warn Poll Worker Shortages Could Lead to Minority Voter Suppression this November

September 4, 2020 by Reece Nations
In this July 14, 2020, photo, election worker Adonlie DeRoche, seated, wears a mask and face shield behind Plexiglas for safety during the coronavirus pandemic, while handing a ballot and single-use pen to a voter during the primary election in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/David Sharp, File)

Pandemic-induced poll worker shortages could potentially wreak havoc on the electorate of vulnerable communities this November. One high-profile effort to combat this issue, “More Than a Vote,” is launching an initiative with professional athletes to recruit poll workers for this year’s election cycle in crucial swing states.

Analysis published by The Center for Public Integrity in partnership with NBC News in May reported the shortage of workers resulted in fewer in-person polling sites during this year’s primaries. While this issue is being combated in a number of different ways — such as expanded early voting periods and absentee voting systems — election workers are still largely individuals who are at high risk of infection.

Most poll workers nationwide in 2016 were age 61 or older, according to data tracked by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. However, analysis from CPI found that number to be much higher in some states. 

“Black people, particularly middle-aged and older Black people, prefer to vote in person rather than vote by mail,” President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill told The New York Times. “We need more poll workers and we need younger poll workers who can be resilient and work during early voting as well.”

Consequently, similar efforts have begun to recruit high school and college-aged volunteers to help ease the burden endured by elderly election workers. An example of one of these groups is The Poll Hero Project, which registers individuals to serve as election workers and offers recommendations on effective safety practices once one has signed up.

More Than a Vote is classified as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization and does not engage in advocacy for a specific candidate. LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes, Lisa Leslie and Sloane Stephens are just some of the notable figures associated with the group who are turning to social media for their advocacy efforts.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson commended the advocates from the organization for working to shed light on poll worker shortages. In an article published by The New York Times, Benson noted Detroit and Flint — two of her state’s largest urban centers — are still in need of around 1,000 to 2,000 additional workers.

Benson, who acts as an advisor for More Than a Vote, said the organization’s mission goes beyond merely registering voters and poll workers. By actively informing the electorate on how to vote safely in the “coronavirus era,” they are actively combating voter suppression.

“We’ve had three successful elections in Michigan so far this year because we have been able to fully staff our poll,” Benson said in the NYT. “If we don’t have that, we can’t operate an election.” 

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