With the 2020 presidential election approaching, many counties across the state are experiencing large shortages in poll workers.
In Orange County, there are over 600 people on the poll workers waitlist, said Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections. But just to the south, Chatham County is still short on election workers.
Both counties have seen changes in poll worker demographics, with a notable decrease in older volunteers and increase in younger volunteers, said Raper and Chance Mashburn, elections specialist for Chatham County.
Noah Goldstein, founder of The Poll Workers Project, an organization aimed at recruiting younger people to serve as poll workers in 2020, said it is incredibly important that people step up to volunteer. He cited potential issues with mail-in voting and the many negative effects of closed polling locations to show this.
“We’ve seen these losses in poll workers really amount to some huge issues in a lot of primaries,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin primary in April, 180 polling places were consolidated to five because there weren't enough poll workers. In June, he said the same thing happened in Atlanta, Georgia and Louisville, Kentucky.
"In Louisville they had one polling location for 616,000 people,” he said.
However when Carrboro resident and former Carrboro Town Council member Bethany Chaney called the Orange County Board of Elections after seeing the state’s call for poll workers, she was notified that there was a 300-person waitlist for the job she was trying to get.
“I was overjoyed because I think that shows that people are invested in this election regardless of COVID-19 and are willing to do what it takes to make the election happen, and they’re excited about the election,” she said.
Chaney chose not to volunteer as a poll worker because of the length of the waitlist, and because contradicting information on state websites and in the news left her confused as to whether she could volunteer outside of Orange County.
She said when she checked the State Board of Elections Website, it was unclear whether or not you have to be a resident of a certain county to volunteer there. In another article she read, an elections official said you can't volunteer outside of your home county.
Now, the State Board of Elections website says some people may be able to volunteer as poll workers outside of their home precinct this year, but it does not say who may volunteer in a different precinct and how they may go about doing so.
However, Mashburn said Chatham County welcomes volunteers from outside the county for early voting.
“During early voting we need more poll workers in our northern areas bordering Chapel Hill,” he said. “If they’re on the waitlist for Orange County, we can use their help during early voting in Chatham County.”
Those who are not comfortable volunteering in person can help with the election in other ways. Mashburn said Chatham County is always looking for people to work in their office and behind the scenes.
When it comes to helping the democratic process, Goldstein said he thinks being a poll worker is an easy and effective way to make a big impact.
“I think it’s easy for the individual to make a big difference and a lot of these problems might seem really big and insurmountable," he said. "But I think that this is one that’s really approachable and easy to make a difference with.”
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