National poll worker shortage prompts political activism at Mason

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Photo by Sequoia Wyckoff

In Falls Church, early in-person voting takes place at City Hall. Polling precincts require volunteers, especially healthy young people this year– some Mason students are volunteering their time to help during this election.

Stella Turner, Features Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic is still plaguing America, and the democratic process is not immune.

58% of poll workers in the 2018 midterm election were over 60 years old, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Coronavirus concerns for this high-risk population have forced many seniors to stay home this election season, causing a national poll worker shortage.

Poll workers serve as guides to ensure the voting process runs smoothly in their local precincts. The job is usually hectic and carries plenty of stress, and although payment varies between localities, the standard 12-hour-shifts don’t receive much compensation.

Along with multiple other Mustangs, sophomore Bella Fazio applied in early September to work at local polling places after discovering the nation-wide problem.

“Poll workers are really important, especially in this election during COVID,” Fazio said, “I think it’s important for students to apply because even if we’re under 18, we can help make a difference.”

Senior Grace Tarpgaard, president of the Student League of Women Voters club at Mason, commended the volunteers. 

“These students, many of whom aren’t even old enough to vote, are choosing to protect the health of our senior citizens as well as the sanctity of the democratic process,” Tarpgaard said, “They recognize the significance of this historic election cycle and are stepping up to serve their country in any way they can.”

Virginia began a period of early in-person voting last Friday, September 18th. Tarpgaard believes the extra voting opportunity, coupled with no-excuse absentee voting, “should alleviate some of the crowds we are used to seeing on election day,” which may minimize the effect of the workforce shortage.

Still, polling stations across the country are worried that understaffed precincts could lead to chaos this November after certain state primaries suffered from crowded and unorganized polls.

With uncertainty surrounding the voting process, students are doing everything short of casting their own votes to ensure all voices are heard.

“It’s super important for young people of all ages, even those not eligible to vote, to participate in the democratic process and political activism. Some of the biggest issues in this election, such as climate change and education, will affect our generation more so than any other,” Tarpgaard said, “We have to fight for what we want our future to look like.”