The Poll Worker Shortage in Volusia County

Ahead of the upcoming presidential election, local election officials in Volusia are dealing with a myriad of issues concerning the shortage of poll workers. 


When you go to your local polling station to vote, poll workers are the people who greet you.

They ask your name, hand you a ballot, and give you an “I Voted!” sticker once you’re done. Poll workers are under appreciated and their presence is often taken for granted, but they are absolutely critical to the ability to hold elections. 


This year, America is facing a nationwide poll worker shortage. NPR states that 58 percent of poll workers were over the age of 60 in 2018, and fewer members of this demographic are volunteering to work due to fear for their health and safety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 


In Volusia County, many people who regularly work at the polls are calling out of the job due to the ongoing pandemic. Lisa Lewis, the Volusia County Supervisor of Elections said, “We’ve had over 100 [workers] that have called. We are finding out that people are calling, they are getting worried about COVID-19 and working out there with the people, understandably so — I do understand that”.


Given that it is still unknown if the number of COVID-19 cases will have significantly decreased by the time November comes, it’s entirely reasonable that so many people don’t want to work the polls this year. Poll workers engage with thousands of people in a single day, so for elderly individuals, the risk may not be worth it. As of August 17, Volusia County had 8,543 total cases.


In 2018, Volusia County had 100 polling locations, and this year they are down to 68. In addition to this, Volusia County is in need of over 1,000 workers for the November election.


Without workers to staff polling places, many will be forced to close. If there are fewer voting locations, voters will have to travel farther to one of a few polling locations.This will bring greater demand to the remaining polling sites, resulting in longer lines and decreased accessibility to voting. Decreased accessibility means that fewer citizens will not have an equitable voting experience. Additionally, for those who have full time jobs and other extenuating circumstances, time constraints may prevent them from being able to travel far and wait in long lines to vote. Simply put, less poll workers equals less voting. 


The number of polling places open in November depends on how many people sign up to be poll workers in the next couple of months. In an attempt to alleviate the poll worker shortage, “the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) today announced the designation of September 1st, 2020 as National Poll Worker Recruitment Day to encourage more people to sign up to become election workers for the November election.”


EAC Chairman Ben Hovland said, “Poll workers are the unsung heroes of the democratic process, and right now we’re facing a critical shortage of these dedicated volunteers. Recruiting poll workers is a challenge for many election officials across the country and the COVID-19 pandemic has made this need even more critical. We encourage Americans, who are able and willing to serve, to sign up to help America vote and work the polls on Election Day.”


Many organizations are also putting in effort to recruit poll workers, specifically young people who are at lower risk. For example, according to NPR: “through digital marketing, Power the Polls aims to recruit 250,000 new poll workers on behalf of its partner organizations.”


Poll workers are desperately needed all over the country. There are two perks of being a poll worker: you get paid and you get to protect democracy while doing it. In Volusia County, if you want to be a poll worker on November 3, you are expected to work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and attend one training session before the election. You must be at least 18 years old and be registered to vote in Volusia County, and the compensation is anywhere from $180 to $285 depending on the position you have. Each polling location will have precautions including face shields, masks, hand sanitizer, and plexiglass shields to separate poll workers and voters.


Young people are encouraged to sign up to be poll workers to fill in for those who can’t work this year due to the pandemic. In unforeseen times, it’s important that we all step up in whatever way we can to help our community, especially when our democracy is at stake. 


Let’s work together to power the polls this November. You can sign up today to be a poll worker here.