Power the Polls, an effort backed by major civic groups and businesses that recruited hundreds of thousands of people to serve as poll workers in 2020, is relaunching its efforts ahead of the midterms.
“We’re seeing already in the early primaries that there have been places that polling locations have been closed due to poll worker shortages, or there’s been the threat of closing polling locations,” said Jane Slusser, the effort’s program manager, in an interview.
Recruiting poll workers was one of the biggest challenges for election officials during the 2020 election. And a rise in conspiracy theory-fueled threats to election workers, from secretaries of state on down, have worried some in the field, who say the environment makes it more difficult to recruit and retain enough workers this election cycle.
Slusser said Power the Polls would look to reengage the 700,000 people who signed up to be potential poll workers in 2020, encouraging them to get in touch with their local election offices to work again. She said Power the Polls would place a particular emphasis on recruiting workers who have specialized skill sets, like knowing multiple languages, that local officials need to run elections smoothly.
The initiative’s co-founders include the Civic Alliance — an association of major companies, from tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft to retailers like Starbucks and Old Navy — as well as the Fair Elections Center, the Civic Responsibility Project, Pizza to the Polls, the Center for Secure and Modern Elections and MTV and Comedy Central.
Slusser also acknowledged that election administrators are grappling with a tight labor market, which makes it harder to recruit in some areas. “I think election administrators, like every other employer in America, are having difficulty finding folks,” she said.
And the natural drop in engagement in a midterm election year compared to a presidential year also presents a challenge for election officials.
“It doesn’t matter if turnout is not as high as it is in those presidential years, we still need to have all those polling locations open,” she said. “I think it really is an awareness issue.”
Administrative challenges facing this year’s election — from supply chain struggles to disinformation and the threats to workers that arise from that — have also caught the attention of Congress.
The Senate Rules Committee, which oversees federal oversight of elections, held a hearing Thursday addressing a wide range of challenges.
“States must also continue the important work of recruiting, training and retaining poll workers,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the committee, “many of whom do this as basically a volunteer activity. And it is pretty easy to un-volunteer if this is an activity you decide you don’t want to be a part of.”