The November election is now less than a month away, and officials are preparing to make sure every vote is counted whether it comes by mail or in person. There to help them will be poll workers, regular Michiganders, who will greet voters, issue them ballots and count mail-in votes on Election Day.
Many of them have signed up to work an election for the first time.
Derek Melot says there are three things that made him want to sign up to be a poll worker for the first time.
First, a proposal passed by Michigan voters in 2018 allowed for no reason absentee voting, so he could mail his ballot in instead of voting in person.
He was also able to ask off work on Election Day, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic played a role.
“With traditionally so many of our precinct workers being senior citizens, you know, anything we can do to kind of help shield them where we can, is a good thing,” he said.
Melot is one of hundreds of new poll workers to sign up to work at precincts in the city of Lansing. At 55, he’s been voting for almost 4 decades.
"This year, now, I kind of get to see the process from the back end. I'm sure it'll be much more stressful than what I experienced as a typical voter.”
First Time Poll Worker And First Time Voter
He’ll be joined on Election Day by Juan Morales. This will not only be the first presidential election Morales will work, but also the first one the 18-year-old Lansing Community College student will vote in as well.
“I'm a new voter, but I take it very seriously. It's been instilled in me since I was young, that I shouldn't take for granted the right to vote,” Morales said.
Morales says he was inspired to sign up because he has friends his age who’ve worked elections before.
“They always talked about how they helped out at the precincts [and] how it was a long day, but it was very rewarding.”
Morales even inspired his mother to come with him.
"She'll be out there with me all day, from dusk till dawn,” he said.
Recruiting Election Workers
The state of Michigan has been doing its own recruiting efforts to find poll workers. The Secretary of State has partnered with college Greek organizations as well as all four major sports teams in Detroit.
Through its Democracy MVP program, 26,000 Michiganders have signed up.
Initiatives to get more people to sign up to work the polls have gone national. A coalition of Black athletes and artists along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund formed the group, More Than A Vote.
It boasts members like Lebron James, Kevin Hart and Toni Braxton, and after a shoutout by President Barack Obama, the group saw a surge of 10,000 new sign-ups.
The Lansing Clerk’s Office says they are more than covered with a waiting list of almost 80 people.
Normally, they would send any extra people to nearby townships, but an office spokesperson said most municipalities already have enough people this year.
The Challenges Of Training New Workers During A Pandemic
Lansing City Clerk, Chris Swope says it’s great that so many people like Morales and Melot are stepping up, but having one of the largest crops of new election workers during a pivotal election also has its challenges.
Swope says so many of the election worker veterans are staying home this year.
“What we have right now is kind of, we're calling it a leadership gap," he said.
Election workers need to be familiar with computers, tabulators and voting booths, but training with the actual election equipment can’t be as hands on as it usually is with social distancing.
“So, all these things are kind of hard to learn over Zoom," Swope said.
Swope says some trainings will be virtual, but they will be bringing in new election workers for short small group sessions.
Despite everything that has changed with the pandemic, the goal will be the same.
"They're there to protect people's right to vote and to treat both each other and the voters with respect you know, we're all there for the same thing," Swope said.
Morales says he signed up for a similar reason, especially as a young voter.
“Our generation has a duty to not only get involved in helping, things like this precinct working and such, getting people out there to vote, but also to vote ourselves,” he said.
Trainings start in just a few weeks for poll workers like Melot and Morales.