Facing a national shortage of older poll workers, Joshua Medley, a student at Normandale Community College, will join other young Minnesotans helping out at the polls on Nov. 3, meeting voters with a greeting and a mask.
“We need the polling places to be stocked, and to have people who can welcome in voters who may be new, may not be comfortable, or may come from a background or a culture that doesn’t encourage them to vote as frequently,” he said.
Medley, 21, is one of the 150,000 youth from around the country who have answered a call from states, cities and celebrities alike to become poll workers this election year.
He’s had some practice working a 14-hour shift as an election judge in Minnesota’s August primary, the state’s first election since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Pew Research analysis showed that the majority of poll workers are ages 61 and older, a group that is at higher risk of succumbing to the coronavirus. Young people are much less likely to contract the virus — but are also historically less likely to become poll workers.
The pandemic has created multiple concerns for the 2020 election, including a surge in mail-in ballots, slower mail delivery, and public health protocols at in-person polling places. That has led to staffing problems.
The state of Minnesota needs 30,000 poll workers each year. But that is a group that is disproportionately made up of seniors and retirees, Secretary of State Steve Simon said.
“We have evidence that some portion of them are hanging back this year and taking themselves out of the running. For that reason, we really need to replenish their ranks with people of all ages, so that we still have the 30,000 well-trained people that we need in the polling places,” Simon said.
Simon is encouraging county and city election administrators to recruit more poll workers than needed. “Because we can’t predict the future, and we don’t know what the trends will be in late October, my advice to everybody is please over-recruit,” Simon said.
Power the Polls, a nationwide initiative, hopes to recruit 250,000 young people like Medley from across the country to sign up to work.
“I don’t know if everyone fully understands how our polling locations are really powered by our communities,” said LeadMN Executive Director Michael Dean. Dean oversees the Minnesota State College Student Association, which focuses on civic engagement. “We really need young people to step up to make sure that we can have an election and that those locations are properly staffed so that folks can vote in an easy, efficient manner, and in a secure way.”
Medley heard about the need for young people to work the polls through his college and on Instagram. In August, he worked at a primary election polling place in Richfield, where many of the other poll workers return year after year.
“Richfield had people who had done election work for many, many years. I just popped in and they were surprised to see a new face,” Medley said.
Minnesota poll workers are paid, temporary employees of local election officials. There are no location requirements, allowing poll workers to commute wherever they are needed. All poll workers will be provided personal protective equipment.
Election officials also encourage multilingual applicants and applicants affiliated with all Minnesota political parties. Minnesotans as young as 16 are eligible to apply to become election judge trainees, even though they can’t vote.
Medley said that he felt safe working the polls on primary day and looks forward to serving in St. Paul on Nov. 3.
“We were prepared for people who were anti-mask and how we would deal with that without risking other people, and we never had to. Everyone was so respectful and they sanitized their hands and they all came with a mask,” he said.
Medley hopes to inspire his friends and other young people to become poll workers. In addition to relieving older poll workers, he believes that younger people will help make voting less intimidating.
“It doesn’t make voting a chore, it makes it something fun, and it makes being active and being engaged in our wonderful democracy so much better,” Medley said.