Vandy Glenn wanted to do more than vote in the 2020 election.
So she has enrolled to be a poll worker at her local polling place in Atlanta, Georgia. She’ll work all day on Election Day, Nov. 3, as an assistant poll manager. She’ll be responsible for setting up voting stations, managing other poll workers, answering questions, and more. It’s her first time doing it.
“I hope we get through it. I hope 2021 is better than 2020 has been, and I think the way to make that happen is by voting,” Glenn says. “I decided to take the plunge and sign up as a poll worker so I could say that I did everything I could to help safeguard our democracy this year.”
Hundreds of thousands of poll workers across the country will help voters get their ballots in for the presidential election this year, and Glenn is one of them.
For her time, she will earn a few hundred bucks.
You may still be able to do the same. While the deadline to apply to be a poll worker varies by state and county and some windows have already closed, others are still open. For example, San Diego County is still accepting new poll workers; the last training days are Oct. 28 and 29. Riverside County, California and Clark County, Nevada — which includes Las Vegas — are also still taking applications, but you’ll be put on a waitlist and fill in only if another poll worker calls out.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many have decided that working the polls in November is not worth the risk to their health. The prospect of a nice payday while helping fellow Americans exercise their right to be heard hasn’t lured enough poll workers this year.
Historically, most people who choose to be poll workers belong to a group especially at risk from the virus: the elderly. More than two-thirds of poll workers during the 2018 midterms were 61 years or older, according to the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS), a biennial study of how states administer federal elections.
Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University, says that poll worker shortages across the country could mean a change in where you cast your ballot.
“You might not end up in the precinct you’re used to voting in, just because they don’t have people willing to spend a day to work the polls,” Ansolabehere says.
And while many Americans will be mailing in their ballots this year or voting early, Ansolabehere says roughly 40% of those eligible will still vote in person on Nov. 3.
But if you’re willing and able, becoming a poll worker can let you accomplish two things at the same time: contribute to democracy, and earn some cash while doing it.
If you’re thinking about working the polls on Election Day, here’s how to sign up.
What Do Poll Workers Do?
Poll workers help ensure that our country’s elections run smoothly.
Typically, the job begins even before Election Day. Many states require poll workers to attend training beforehand, sometimes for multiple training sessions. And depending on the precinct, poll workers may be asked to work the night or morning before Election Day to set up.
On Election Day, poll workers welcome voters, check IDs, hand out ballots, manage lines, help with curbside voting, answer questions, and maintain an overall safe environment for everyone, among other tasks. At some polling places, it’s an all-day commitment, from early in the morning to late at night. At others, workers come in shifts.
This year, most states and local governments have taken steps to protect poll workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by enforcing social distancing and offering hand sanitizer and masks.
How to Earn Money Being a Poll Worker
The amount you can make as a poll worker depends on where you live; it can be anywhere from $75 to up to $200.
In most cases, the state sets the minimum wage or daily rate for poll workers, but local governments can, and often do, pay more. For example, Glenn will make $175 on Election Day and $25 for every training session she attends as an assistant poll manager in DeKalb County, Georgia.
You can sign up to be a poll worker by contacting your local election office. Find your local election official’s website and contact information by using this U.S. Vote Foundation database.
Poll workers typically have to be qualified or registered voters. Generally, this means you have to be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, meet your state’s residency requirements, and have no felony convictions. People younger than 18 can volunteer through youth poll worker programs, which are available in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
“People like to get involved and do something for their community. There’s a nominal pay, which varies from place to place, but it’s an acknowledgement that your time is valuable. Largely it’s a way to be active and engaged,” says Ansolabehere.
If you have more questions or are looking for more specifics on being a poll worker, these sites offer a lot of useful information:
- U.S. Election Assistance Commission
- National Conference of State Legislatures
- National Association of Secretaries of State
- National Association of State Election Directors