Election supervisors are looking for young people to step up and work the polls.
Retired seniors tend to be the general demographic of poll workers, which has been an issue in the middle of the pandemic — especially in Florida where COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
“We’ve had people still applying to work, but then you go to contact them and they say ‘Well, I’ve changed my mind because of coronavirus,’” said Jacqueline Ashlock, poll worker coordinator for the Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections. “We’re trying to work with schools — we have a handful of students helping — and the county is also asking their employees to work.”
With the Florida primary just two weeks away — Aug. 18 — and the general election on Nov. 3, Ashlock said the county is short about 10 to 15 positions, most of them in the Fort Walton Beach area.
All poll workers must go through three to five hours of training, for which they are paid. Between training and Election Day, a poll worker can earn between $120 to $200 depending on the county and poll worker experience. But few workers do it for the money, said Ashlock.
“Most of them love doing it; they feel like it’s their civic duty,” she said.
Sonya Daniel, deputy supervisor of elections for Escambia County, said all positions are filled, but they are actively looking for young people for their standby pool.
“Even outside a pandemic, folks may call in for family emergencies or they can no longer get out of work,” she said.
Applications for poll workers:
As for the coronavirus, precautions such as masks, hand sanitizer and plexiglass partitions are some of the ways polls might be different this election season. Ashlock said they cannot require anyone to wear a mask — especially voters, so as not to impede on anyone’s right to vote.
Getting more young people to engage with democracy is an age-old (pun intended) issue.
“Whoever cracks that nut will be a very wealthy person,” said Daniel with a laugh. “Voters aged 18 to 25 are the highest registered age group, but they’re the least likely to cast a ballot in the election. We want to engage them, let them be a part of how democracy works and inspire them to be more active.”
Younger people are also in high demand as elections become more tech-savvy, said Ashlock.
“We’re looking at technology changes all the time, which younger people adapt to easily,” she added. “Election Day is also a long day working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., for an 18-year-old, that’s nothing.”
Without young people stepping in, they will be a “huge gap” to fill once the 65 and older workers age out. Getting people in now will help election offices stay ahead of the curve.
“The sooner we can get them in, the longer they’ll be with us,” said Daniel. “We’d love to get some new folks.”