With the election looming and a pandemic still raging through the U.S., a shortage of poll workers is just one of many threats to voting this November — but it’s a big one.
In a Facebook post Friday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will launch a poll worker recruitment drive on the platform. Beginning this weekend, U.S. Facebook users over the age of 18 will see a message on their News Feeds linking them to state poll worker registration pages. The company also includes that information in its voting information center, a hub of U.S. election resources that the company launched last month.
Facebook will join a number of other large employers, including Microsoft, Starbucks, Old Navy and Target, in offering paid time off to employees who want to volunteer at the polls. The company has also offered free advertising to state election authorities for the poll worker recruitment push and expects several states to be joining California in running those campaigns soon.
While poll worker shortages were already an issue, a dearth of poll workers is a much bigger concern in 2020. Poll workers skew older, making them generally more vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19 and making poll worker recruitment even more essential than it would be in a normal year.
As a Pew state policy report observed in 2018, poll workers are critical to elections running smoothly. A shortage of poll workers could mean “long lines, mass confusion and miscounted ballots.” And that’s without even taking the pandemic into account.
“They greet you at the plastic folding table set up in your neighborhood’s library, church or fire station, asking you for your name, address and, depending on your state, photo ID before handing you a ballot or directing you to a voting machine,” the Pew report reads.
“More than just glorified receptionists, these underpaid few are really the gatekeepers to democracy.”