by Nico Luginbill
High school seniors across the country who will be 18 by Election Day (Nov. 3) will be voting for the very first time this year. While 17-year-old seniors may not be able to vote in this coming election, they still have the opportunity to make a big difference, support voting access for all, and help democracy: by becoming a poll worker.
This historic Presidential election, with so much at stake at all levels of government, more poll workers than ever will be needed. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials in Ohio and in other states are worried that some poll workers will bow out in order to avoid potential virus exposure in polling places. Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State, is requesting that “parents, teachers, and coaches ask their eligible students to defend democracy this November.” In Ohio, 17-year-old students are able to serve as poll workers through the “Youth at the Booth” program.
Not only will student poll workers be defending democracy, they’ll get paid for their time. The amount of pay for poll workers varies from county to county. The pay in Hamilton County is $181.50, in Butler County it’s $202.05, and in Clermont County it’s $155 and up to $185 for people driving longer distances.
Jean Pateman, a senior at Talawanda High School who is signing up for Youth at the Booth says, the pay is “a pretty persuasive reason to work,” but says she “would definitely choose to work the polls even if [she] didn’t get paid…[it’s] just an extra bonus to trying to help a system work.”
The job itself involves checking in and assisting voters, making sure the process runs smoothly, and, especially this year, helping to keep voting booths clean and sanitary.
Poll workers in Ohio must meet the following requirements:
- Must be a U.S. citizen
- Must be at least 18 years of age and registered to vote, or 17 years old and a senior in high school
- Must be a resident of the county in which they plan to serve
- Must not be running as a candidate for the election in which they are working
- Must not have been convicted of a felony
Poll workers in most counties also must be able to attend a training session, typically three or four hours long. Poll workers can expect to work from about 5:30 a.m. (polls are open at 6:30 a.m.) until 8:30 p.m. (polls close at 7:30 p.m.), though working hours vary from county to county.
Requirements for poll volunteers in Indiana and Kentucky differ. In Kentucky, you must be 18 by election day and registered to vote in order to work at the polls. In Indiana, the “Hoosier Hall Pass” allows 16- and 17-year-old high school students to work as poll workers on Election Day.
In past elections most poll workers have been older Americans (60 percent of poll workers in the 2018 election were senior adults), and, as COVID-19 is particularly severe for the older generation, many of them will opt out of working the polls this year. Coronavirus doesn’t only affect older poll workers, of course; one of Pateman’s friends was planning on joining the Youth at the Booth program, but was unable to because of high-risk family members. Without enough poll workers, there will be longer lines to vote–decreasing voter access and possibly compromising their safety. Because of the serious consequences of a poll worker shortage, it is absolutely crucial to our democracy that younger generations step up this election season and take on the job.
All Cincinnati Public Schools are closed on Election Day, making it easy for eligible CPS students to spend the day working at the polls. However, other schools are in session and students may need to get permission for an excused absence from school. Some large companies (Gap, Old Navy, Target, and Warby Parker, among others) are taking a step to help our democracy by allowing employees paid time off to work at the polls. Other companies (Patagonia, Twitter, Ben & Jerry’s, and Coca-Cola, to name a few) are giving all their employees a paid holiday on Election Day. Lyft is offering free rides to get voters to the polls.
Even without incentives from employers, the call to help defend our country’s democracy is strong.
“Since I was young I couldn’t wait until the day that I would be able to vote,” Jean Pateman says. “I still can’t, but I get to be front and center, watching the process. I also get to help make sure it works, which is more than I can ask for… After the first hour or two, I’ll probably be exhausted, but I still think watching our (extremely faulty) democracy work will be an experience.”
Here are links some other Election Day resources for teens and young adults:
The Poll Hero Project, a student-led organization recruiting young people to assist precincts all over the country: https://www.pollhero.org/
Local chapters of the League of Women Voters are a great place for people of all ages (and genders) to get nonpartisan voting information: https://my.lwv.org/ohio/cincinnati-area
The Civics Center has been promoting high school student voter registration across the country: https://thecivicscenter.org/
Still not sure if you’re registered yet, where or how to vote? Vote.gov is the place to go.