As the 2020 election approaches, Lehigh Valley residents are preparing to cast their ballots, and many have done so already by mail.
However, there is one significant factor that could affect the successful counting of votes for those who show up in person at the polls on Nov. 3: the crucial need for poll workers.
Poll workers serve an important purpose in helping others fill out their ballots and ensure the safety and security necessary for a free and fair election.
Allison Mickel, assistant professor of anthropology at Lehigh, is a registered poll worker. She is highly involved with the grassroots organization Lehigh Valley Stands Up, which is a local initiative focused on racial justice and transformative political change. Other Lehigh students have joined the initiative as well.
Mickel worked as a poll worker in the last primary election earlier this year and will serve again this November in Lehigh County.
“In the primary, there was a pretty desperate call for poll workers because COVID was really at its height,” Mickel said. “I’m younger than the average poll worker, so I felt like I could take the risk and serve, since so many of the older poll workers were dropping out.”
Scott Duncombe, co-director of Power the Polls, a nationwide poll worker recruitment initiative, also finds the coronavirus to be heavily affecting poll worker registration. He foresees negative outcomes at voting sites if too few poll workers arrive.
Duncombe said more than half of those who typically volunteer are over 60 and are not able to work due to the pandemic.
“The consequences have already been felt in recent primaries, where poll worker shortages led to long lines and voter disenfranchisement,” he said.“This can lead to mass closures of poll sites on Nov. 3 due to lack of poll workers, resulting in long lines, fewer opportunities to physically distance and directly stifling voters’ ability to cast a ballot.”
Judge of Elections Susan Terry Keller has served for the past 20 years in Lower Macungie Township District 2, the largest in Lehigh County. Her role is to oversee operations of the polls on every Election Day, and she stresses the importance of poll workers’ responsibilities when walking citizens through the process of voting.
“I’m monitoring all of my poll workers, and I’ll say to them, ‘if they have any problem with a voter, that’s what the judge is for,’” Keller said.
Keller ensures that in the polling places she observes, clear-cut signs outlining voting directions are available for citizens’ reference. Although it can feel fun to participate in being a poll worker, Keller feels strongly that those who register must not do it for the social aspect, but rather serve in a professional, nonpartisan manner.
Addie Micir, a Lehigh women’s basketball assistant coach, led a voter registration initiative called Coaches for Change this semester in an effort to increase awareness of the upcoming election’s significance.
“We’re in a 15-second social media clip era, and that doesn’t always bode well for what people truly stand for,” Micir said. “We’ve been stressing with a lot of our student-athletes and in the education of our athletic department, ‘Get your info from credible sources.’ If you do that, then there’s no need to panic or worry.”
Micir said the initiative aimed to teach student-athletes about the importance of voting.
“I don’t think that enough people are aware that we have a shortage of poll workers,” Micir said. “I think people in this county would then step up and help out in any way that they could if they knew it.”
Mickel encourages student involvement to any extent possible. She said working as a poll worker is a paid position, but students looking for less of a time commitment can also volunteer as a poll watcher.
Duncombe said the Lehigh Valley area should seek to recruit responsible poll workers who are fully aware of their duties.
“We need people — especially young people — all across the country to step up, raise their hand to be a poll worker, and encourage their friends and family members to do it, too — and do it today,”Duncombe said.
Explore how you can contribute to the upcoming election with the multiple resources and poll worker registration links listed below.
Northampton County: (610) 829-6260 or email [email protected]