As the final days of the presidential election approach, thousands of Americans are readying themselves to head to the polls to vote during an unprecedented pandemic. While COVID-19 has presented a new set of challenges for our nation that has changed the foundation of societal norms, one’s right to vote is unwavering. However, the protocols and precautions that have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Election Day will certainly impact the process of casting a ballot safely.
Masks, gloves, and social distancing will all contribute to an unusual voting experience this election cycle. For this reason, having an adequate number of poll workers will play a critical role in enforcing proper safety standards, as well as helping to operate a sufficient number of polling locations. Their help will undoubtedly aid in preventing a repeat of Wisconsin’s April 7th election, where 71 voters who visited in-person polling locations caught COVID-19 after a shortage of poll workers forced auxiliary voting locations to close down. A lack of social distancing and long lines at the remaining voting facilities all contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19, which could have been prevented had there been enough people to help work the polls.
Instances like Wisconsin have proven that the mass mobilization of an intergenerational makeup of poll workers is key to a successful and safe presidential election. COVID-19 has played a hand in forcing many veteran poll workers, who are overwhelmingly made up of 50-plus Americans, to choose to stay home in order to mitigate their risk of catching the virus. This leaves younger Americans to step up to the challenge, as a nationwide alarm sounded at the prospect of a shortage of poll workers in the lead-up to the presidential election.
Thankfully, multiple organizations have answered the call to aid efforts to recruit younger and first-time poll workers who are less likely to fall victim to the harmful symptoms of COVID-19. Power the Polls, the Association of Young Americans, AARP, and the New Leaders Council have all emerged at the forefront of our nation’s organizations who are working tirelessly to help secure the nearly 900,000 poll workers needed to safely operate voting locations in the days leading up to November 3rd, as well as on Election Day itself.
The mass mobilization of intergenerational poll workers, as demonstrated by the shortage in Wisconsin and the subsequent COVID-19 outbreak, is critical in providing Americans a safe voting environment. This particularly rings true for America’s 50-plus voters, a voting bloc that prefers to vote in-person and can swing this year’s presidential election in either direction. In recognition of the importance of securing the support of this key demographic, President Trump and his challenger, Vice President Joe Biden, recently conducted interviews with AARP to touch on issues that they know 50-plus voters care about, such as Social Security, Medicare, and prescription drug prices. By mobilizing the necessary amount of poll workers to operate polling locations, this group of voters will surely feel safer and more informed as they prepare to cast their ballot.
This year’s presidential election will be unlike any other, both in form and function. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the massive uptick in voter turnout, has made the role of poll workers and their intergenerational makeup even more important. However, these unprecedented circumstances should not discourage our nation’s most vulnerable and 50-plus Americans from visiting the polls. With younger Americans stepping up around the nation to help out on Election Day, and through the assistance offered by key organizations, we can properly provide an environment where every voter can safely cast their ballot this election cycle.
Wayne Sasser serves in North Carolina’s House of Representatives. He is also a pharmacist.