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Old Traditions, News Faces at Polling Places

By Burke Bunyard

With the 2020 general elections looming in the distance, Americans across the nation are making their voices heard at the polls. However, with the nation battling the COVID-19 pandemic, health concerns have arisen for many of the volunteers that would be manning the polls. Democracy refuses to wait for anyone, and in turn, young Americans are refusing to let this health crisis dictate how democracy is carried out. 

Historically speaking, senior citizens tend to make up the majority of poll workers during most elections. According to a Los Angeles Times article, over 80% of U.S. poll workers during the 2018 midterm elections were over the age of 40, with 60% being over the age of 60. Many seniors that are retired simply have more time to volunteer so that others may focus on school and work. However, young Americans across the nation have been sacrificing their time and volunteering in the place of those who cannot afford to risk their health and safety.  

As stated in a Sept. 11 CDC report, ‘In general, your risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 increases as you get older.’ The report also noted that Americans aged 65 and older have accounted for 80% of reported COVID-19-related deaths. It is for this reason that many young volunteers are stepping up and manning the polls for their first time.

Poll volunteers displaying campaign signs at Canyon Ridge Middle School in Austin, Texas on Nov. 3, 2020.

Caitlin Lawrence, a volunteer and first-time poll worker, stressed the importance of this political participation. “I think it’s very important that younger people volunteer this election season,” she said. “Disproportionately poll workers are older, retired Americans, and, to ensure that many polling places can remain open, it’s important that younger people volunteer to help cover those jobs.”

In an election year, it can be very easy to focus on America’s polarization of opinions and political values. Yet, this election is being decided by citizens with a sentiment unseen for many generations. Across the country, Americans young and old have lost loved ones as a result of this health emergency, and it is these citizens that are realizing their importance in the political system. Regardless of party affiliation, Americans have become united in their desire to carry out a civic duty.

Although this is not an everyday thing, on this day my roommate and I voted at the Texas State University polling place after pumping gas. The line was short, and we felt a sense of pride by participating in our democracy.

Kristin Bunyard, a former Voter Deputy Registrar and first-time poll worker, expressed the sentiment driving this new wave of poll workers. “Democracy is hopefully representative of the society that’s participating in it, so it really has no choice but to adjust,” she said. “It has adjusted during times of war and economic crises, so a pandemic should not be any different.”

Throughout the years, democracy has been threatened in countless ways. However, the integrity of the U.S. 2020 presidential election was threatened by the dramatic spread of COVID-19. Due to these irregular circumstances, the 2020 election saw both a record number of early voters and mail-in ballots, and these ballots were counted by a large influx of younger poll workers. According to the Election Assistance Commission, poll workers over the age of 60 make up the majority of volunteers for early voting and Election Day. However, the risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19 increases with age, so, young people across the nation decided to step up and take the places of those who could not afford to risk contracting coronavirus.

Every two years, the EAC administers the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) in order to conduct research on how the most recent election was conducted. This report includes the average age of poll workers, degree of difficulty finding poll volunteers, and much more. Unfortunately, the data for the 2020 general election is not available at the moment, and it will likely not be available until Nov. 2021. However, by compiling data from the previous two elections and applying the circumstances at which the 2020 election took place, it can be easy to predict how the data will look in the next EAVS report.

View an interactive data illustration of the changes here.

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