Stanford students to work polls across the country

Nov. 2, 2020, 8:47 p.m.

This Election Day, Stanford students will be heading to the polls — and not just to vote. Amid the pandemic, some have decided to get involved with the election and the democratic process as poll workers.

So far, these Stanford students have been happy with their decision to serve as poll workers. Kevin Li ’22 is working in Iowa and said that his job can be a surprising break from election stress.

“It is exhausting, but it’s more fun than I think people expect,” said Li, who previously served as The Daily’s student-at-large representative. “You can’t be on 538 and refreshing the page every two minutes if you’re an election official, which I think is a big benefit, because that is definitely what I would be doing for the entire day otherwise.”

Hannah Cussen ’23, poll working in Colorado, has also enjoyed working the polls as a relief to partisanship.

“It always reminds me that people of the party that I don’t identify with are not evil, blood-sucking creatures, as sometimes social media portrays,” Cussen said.

Stanford poll workers also see the work as a way to participate in the democratic process. Poll working is “a super cool way to get involved in democracy and see it happening,” Kate Frimet ’22, poll working in New York, said. Cussen agreed, encouraging students to get involved, because, “You feel definitely like a part of something bigger than yourself.” 

Safety concerns surrounding COVID-19 remain a top priority for these students.

“Statistically, there will be someone … who comes in that door who has COVID and does not have a mask on,” Li said. “Just a frustrating position to be in.”

Frimet, however, feels confident in the precautions her voting location is taking, explaining that voters and election workers are wearing masks, cleaning spaces and utilizing plexiglass barriers — “I’m not super concerned,” she said.

Kyra Whitelaw ’21, poll working in New York City, on the other hand, is concerned about long election lines, adding that she is “just a little worried about there being a lot of people, and a lot of pressure to go really quickly because the line is super long.”

Political science professor Larry Diamond ’74 wrote in a statement to The Daily that the country needs poll workers to ensure lines stay short, as many older poll workers are choosing to stay home due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Without enough poll workers, counties close down some polling stations, and it then becomes harder for people to vote on Election Day,” Diamond wrote. “That is bad enough, but in addition, this tends to more heavily affect precincts that are predominantly low-income, African American, and Hispanic.”

Poll workers are often older people: A Pew Research study reported that 58% of 2018 midterm poll workers were 61 and older.

“I’m definitely the youngest person in the room by about 40 years. I’m 20, and I think everybody else is above 60,” Cussen said. 

Given the usual older demographics of poll workers, many students have decided to get involved in poll working this year, at least in part, due to the pandemic.

“I mean, certainly the main motivator is that I would rather be out there than some 70-year-old,” Li said. “I just think it would be horrific if, as a result of working at an election, an elderly poll worker caught coronavirus and had a serious infection.”

“I just think that would be a stain on our democracy,” he added.

Many student poll workers have asked their professors to accommodate their working schedule. Whitelaw said she has found Stanford to be understanding, and her Earth Systems class has made all sections optional for synchronous attendance during Election week. Frimet has also been happy with her professor’s reactions. 

“I’ve talked to most of my professors about it already, and they’ve been super understanding,” Frimet said. 

Some students plan to stay involved in poll working even after the pandemic is over. 

“I definitely feel like I would keep doing it in the future,” Whitelaw said, “even when COVID and other things are not at play, because now I’m excited about it.”

Contact Kirsten Mettler at kmettler ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Kirsten Mettler '23 is the Managing Editor for Arts & Life. She is the former desk editor for Vol. 259 Academic News and writes for both News and Arts & Life. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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