An Ohio University student group is working to raise awareness over a national shortage of poll workers for the November election and is recruiting Athens youth to step up and fill the gap.
Bobcats Power the Polls is a group of about 10 student recruiters working in a partnership with national organizations. Student recruiters are using social media to enlist OU students to become poll workers and are collaborating with other OU student organizations to spread their message.
“I grew up in a family where you voted every election, no matter what,” Maxeen Ramlo, a junior studying mechanical engineering, said. “So when I was reached out to, it was pointed out that there is this national nationwide poll worker shortage, and kind of the idea of what that would mean, like polling places not being able to open and some having long lines and having to close early … and that really motivated me to want to help out and do something about it.”
Students in Bobcats Power the Polls were reached out to by their individual colleges and programs, like the Honors Tutorial College and Ohio Honors Program, Ramlo said. From there, they applied to the Campus Compact’s Safe Elections project, which is partnering with the national Power the Polls initiative to recruit youth poll workers.
Haley Janoski, a sophomore studying communication studies and Spanish, said Bobcats Power the Polls previously worked with the OU College Democrats and is spreading its message to groups like OU College Republicans, Student Senate, Cutler Scholars Program and more.
Students from contacted groups have since signed up to become poll workers, Janoski said. A handful of students from the Honors Tutorial College and additional students from the Cutler Scholars Program will work the polls on Election Day.
Bobcats Power the Polls also has a growing social media presence.
Ramlo runs and creates graphics for Bobcats Power the Polls’ Instagram and Twitter. She said the group has received great feedback from those online. The group obtained even more interaction after it ran a giveaway for free OU mugs to any student who sent in confirmation for signing up to be a poll worker.
“A lot of times students are like, ‘Oh, my god, I just signed up. Thank you so much for this information,’” Ramlo said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good reach … through social media. We’ve gotten questions, and we’ve gotten good responses to it.”
Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said she is confident with the number of poll workers Athens County currently has signed up.
“I think we have more than enough, but we keep taking them,” Quivey said. “We can always use people ... for sanitation, for cleaning, for guiding — somewhere. We're going to try to have as many people as we can.”
Janoski said OU students are very engaged in politics, but many first-time voters still don’t know about becoming poll workers and the logistics behind it.
Some of those signing up to be poll workers were unaware the position pays, Quivey said. In Athens County, poll workers are paid $113.50 for working Nov. 3. Poll workers can be paid an additional $20 if they take a polling class.
Poll workers will be provided with surgical-grade masks, face shields and bottles of sanitizer on Election Day.
Poll workers will be required to wear masks, but voters are not, Quivey said. If a voter refuses to wear a mask or cannot wear one for medical reasons, they can either vote outside as a curbside voter or vote in an isolated area inside one of Athens’ 20 polling locations.
Poll workers at each of those polling locations will be equipped with sanitation wipes to clean stations after each voter leaves, Quivey said. Voters will also take their pens with them after voting in order to avoid contamination.
Quivey said voters need to be patient with poll workers this election.
“This is an election like no election we’ve seen: it’s a big election, it’s a presidential and we’re going in a pandemic,” Quivey said. “On Election Day, whether you vote here in the office, whether you're voting mailing, but if you're coming in contact with people, try to be respectful to other people, to others people's wishes. Try to be respectful to each other. Be respectful to our poll workers.”
Ramlo encourages students to sign up to be poll workers whether they are in Athens or at home.
“It’s not just in Athens that we need poll workers,” Ramlo said. “Their community still needs poll workers. No matter where they are, there is a poll worker shortage.”