The “poll” shebang: working the 2020 election


Graphic by Paige Matthys-Pearce

The 2020 election posed unique challenges to poll workers, who deserve the respect and recognition of the public for their work to uphold democracy during a global pandemic.


This infographic represents the day in the life of a poll worker in 2020.  (Graphic by Paige Matthys-Pearce)

Working as a safety coordinator for the election was hard work, but so enjoyable. I felt empowered to keep up with my job because I knew that I was helping the democratic process run smoother. I have gained a much greater appreciation for poll workers after having been one myself.

Memes of the infamously slow Zootopia sloth counting ballots in Nevada have been circulating the internet. I have to admit, they are pretty funny. It brings humor to a stressful situation to lighten the tense atmosphere. However, memes like these that make fun of poll workers fail to give poll workers the respect they deserve.

These workers signed up to work a full day, and continue to work at minimal pay to count ballots and uphold the most fundamental part of the democratic process. While it may have been frustrating to not immediately know the results of the election, portraying these hard-working individuals as lazy is unacceptable. Counting hundreds of thousands of ballots takes time, and since not many people sign up to be poll workers, the job only takes longer. They work non-stop counting ballots. They don’t deserve memes poking fun at their supposed slowness. 

Due to the health risks associated with the global pandemic, veteran poll workers were reluctant to return to their posts. This resulted in a nationwide poll worker shortage, inspiring election committees and celebrities alike to amp up efforts to recruit younger poll workers for the 2020 election. I found out about the importance of working elections through Trevor Noah’s Power the Polls campaign. I plan on working in every election I can and encouraging others to do the same.

It’s 4:45 a.m. on Election Day, and I’m ready for a great day of working the polls. Protecting democracy is always a great way to spend the day. (Paige Matthys-Pearce)

This year, the pandemic posed new challenges for poll workers. Safety coordinators like me were tasked with ensuring the safety of voters, which included sanitizing all tables and equipment, and making sure voters properly wore masks and were socially distanced. All poll workers had to wear masks and remain as socially distanced as possible for the safety of everyone.

Poll workers deserve appreciation and recognition from the general public for making sure people’s voices are heard. The more poll workers there are, the quicker ballots get counted. So next time around, sign up to become a poll worker. The more there are, the smoother the election runs and the better democracy is upheld.


My main job as a safety coordinator poll worker included thoroughly and quickly sanitizing tables inside and outside the voting booths. At peak voting time, I was constantly on my feet and hyper-aware of voters to maximize efficiency of moving the line of voters along. (Courtesy of Paige Matthys-Pearce)

While working an election means a long day, workers can get paid for working the entire time. In St. Louis County, the day-long compensation is $155. High schoolers in 10th to 12th grades also have the option of earning service hours. I chose this option because it’s a great way to get lots of service hours recorded in just one day.

On my lunch break, I venture outside the voting room to enjoy the amazing Election Day weather. (Paige Matthys-Pearce)






So why should you become a poll worker? First of all, the entire democratic process cannot function without poll workers. They facilitate the election, make sure people’s votes are counted correctly, and streamline the voting process. The US Election Assistance Commission found that the majority of jurisdictions find it somewhat or very hard to obtain election workers, and many of them are over the age of 70. As elections are turning more frequently to technology, polling sites need more young people to manage the complicated technology and make voting easier for voters.  

Become a poll worker in 5 easy steps:

1. Go to and enter your state and county. 

2. Click on the application (general application or high school application) that fits you. 

3. Fill it out and submit. Don’t forget to keep a copy for your records!

4. Wait until a representative from the Board of Elections gets back to you with more information

5. Once confirmed, complete the short training session and you’re good to go!