When the late Representative John Lewis was in his mid-20s, he organized voter registration campaigns in Mississippi and voting rights marches in Alabama. He fought tirelessly for the right to vote because he understood that our democracy depends on each citizen using the power of the ballot to effect change. Today, one of the greatest threats to our right to vote is the closing of polling locations.
It is more important than ever to ensure that every local polling place remains open. The dual dangers posed by the COVID pandemic and rampant voter suppression are working to limit access to the polls. Many poll workers are usually retired adults who are more vulnerable to COVID. In the 2016 general election, people ages 61 and older accounted for 56% of poll workers, according to the Pew Research Center. And right now, DC and Maryland are struggling with a shortage of poll workers for the general election.
Currently, according to Power the Polls, 250,000 more poll workers are still needed nationwide—and 20,000 are needed in Maryland—for the general election to avoid polling precinct closures. Shuttering polling places is a rampant form of voter suppression, as it forces voters to travel further to cast a ballot, results in decreased voter turnout, and causes long lines at open polling places that deter voters and are a health risk during the pandemic.
This summer, the Student Action Committee created the Poll Workers Project (PWP). We have worked with one goal in mind: keeping polling places open.
By reaching out to high school students and young adults via email and social media, we have gotten hundreds of students from the Washington DC Metropolitan area to commit to work at the polls on Election Day. Many are currently in training.
Here is where you come in. Whether you are a teacher or a student, a parent or a community member, we all have a responsibility to protect our democracy. We must ensure every eligible voter has equal access to the ballot and is not forced to choose between their health and the right to vote during this critical election cycle. As young people, we need to volunteer to work at the polls.
We have worked with administrations at both Georgetown Day School and Sidwell Friends School to shift their class schedule on Election Day to provide students the opportunity to work at the polls. Administrators and teachers at other schools should follow this example by ensuring there are no classes on Election Day and recruiting student leaders to spearhead a poll workers project in their own community.
Students should share information on how to sign up to be a poll worker on their social media and recruit friends from other states to do the same.
Though most high school students will not be able to vote this November, they have the opportunity to help in this momentous election. If you want to work at the polls in the DMV, please contact the Georgetown Day School Student Action Committee.
We need to follow in the footsteps of John Lewis. We need to be custodians of our democracy and its foundation: the right to vote.