Pennsylvania has been facing a massive shortage of poll workers, especially as older people – who usually make up two thirds of those working the polls across the country – are signing up less amid the dangers of the pandemic. But around Philadelphia, Penn students have expressed so much interest in working at the polls that the commonwealth has had to turn some volunteers away.
College senior and President of Penn Democrats Owen Voutsinas-Klose will be a poll worker this election day. While he does not have a specific schedule, he said he will be working at the Penn Alexander School in Philadelphia's 27th Ward before polls open at 7:00 a.m. and until they close at 8:00 p.m.
Voutsinas-Klose will make sure voters are checked in, ensure that their names appear on the voter rolls, help voters use machines, and check that votes are counted accurately. He said he feels confident that the city will be vigilant in detecting and stopping voter intimidation.
He is concerned, however, that some people who may want to vote might not have their names in the rolls due to clerical errors or having not registered in time.
“The last thing I want to see is someone who wants to vote and thinks that they’re eligible, and I have to tell them no," he said.
College sophomore Caleb Shack had also planned on helping work the polls and organized a group of Penn students to work with him. But of the 12 people he gathered, only three were chosen. He was not among them, and he will not be working the polls this election season.
“There’s a lot of interest in Penn students, but there are so many people that were interested that they actually turn people away," Voutsinas-Klose said. "But that’s a good problem to have.”
Penn’s Office of Government and Community Affairs worked with the 27th ward Democratic leader Carol Jenkins, who is in charge of staffing the polling places, in order to help Penn students become poll workers.
Philadelphia runs on the ward system for election oversight. The city is divided into 1,692 precincts which are divided into 66 wards, and Penn is located in the 27th. Wards are represented by leaders, Democrat and Republican, who are chosen by their respective parties’ committee people.
These twelve students’ names, including Shack and Voutsinas-Klose, were submitted to Jenkins and to Penn as part of the unofficial fraternity event run by Shack, so they did not submit the usual application.
In order to be a poll worker, you must first fill out an interest form and wait for Philadelphia’s county election officer to get in contact with you and make sure you meet a few basic requirements: You are a resident of Pennsylvania, are not a government official or employee, will attend a mandatory training session, and are available to work on Election Day before polls open at 7:00 a.m. until after they close at 8:00 p.m.
The form also asks applicants if they have any special skills or experience relevant to working at the polls and if they are willing to take on high level administrative duties, such as overseeing ballot chain of custody and reconciling vote totals after polls close.
Selected applicants must also complete a mandatory training in the form of a recorded video to watch before election day. Workers are also paid $50 to complete the mandatory training requirement, as well as $200 for their work on election day.
“I’ve always wanted to be a poll worker. I think it’s such an important and overlooked job, especially in coronavirus times — most poll workers were over the age of 65. I just think it’s such an important, under-appreciated part of our democracy is making sure that polls function and people can cast their ballots safely on election day,” Voutsinas-Klose said.