Over 200 Northwestern students to volunteer as Election Day poll workers


Courtesy of Rob Donahue

Anna Sheehan, a Weinberg senior and NU Votes ambassador works at the Voter Services Station outside of the Donald P. Jacobs Center.

Ellen O’Brien, Reporter

Before this year, Communication junior Sammi Tapper never gave much thought to poll working. But in the months leading up to the election, Tapper has organized a group of over 200 Northwestern student volunteers to staff the polls.

Tapper said her grandmother had previously served as poll worker, but was unable to volunteer this year due to COVID-19. Most poll workers in the 2018 general election, like Tapper’s grandmother, were over the age of 60, according to the Pew Research Center.

Given the vulnerability the novel coronavirus poses to older adults, Cook County and the rest of the country is facing a poll worker shortage.

In addition to mobilizing students, Tapper started a Facebook group for students interested in serving as poll workers in Cook County. The group provides updated information about poll training and carpooling, Tapper said.

“I think poll working isn’t something that we college students typically focus on in a normal election,” Tapper said. “But because of COVID-19 and the state of the election, everyone’s looking for every single way they can help make an impact.”

Many of the students volunteering on Election Day are first-time poll workers, including Communication sophomore Jo Scaletty.

By working the polls, Scaletty hopes to gain more knowledge about the voting system and help give everyone an opportunity to vote.

“Voter suppression is a big deal to me,” Scaletty said. “The fewer people that are available to help, the more likely it is that… people won’t be able to stay at the polls for as long as they need to”

The Center for Civic Engagement is also working to make sure that students have the resources they need to be civically engaged this Election Day. Many students are embarrassed that they don’t know how to navigate the voting process in their home state, said Rob Donahue, interim director at the center.

“A lot of (students) are hesitant to raise their hand and be like, ‘Am I the only one in my friend group who doesn’t know if they’re registered?’” Donahue said.

But students shouldn’t be shy about being confused by the process, as it’s a particularly confusing time to navigate voting, Donahue said.

Tapper said student poll workers have expressed a need for a centralized online group to answer questions and address concerns. She said she is in regular communication with the Cook County Clerk’s Office to answer students’ questions.

“My main goal is just to make sure we can get as many student volunteers as possible and make it a very easy, efficient and safe experience,” Tapper said. “I hope everything works out and that people are able to get to the training and their workplaces safely and efficiently.”

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