The Ultimate Guide to Being a Student Poll Worker


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The word of 2020 was “VOTE.” It was all over Instagram: your best friend, some girl you hadn’t seen in 3 years, and Kylie Jenner were all simultaneously telling you to exercise your right to vote. There seemed to be a plethora of information and enthusiasm that pulled you right into the frenzy. But what are you supposed to do when, by the law, the right to vote is not yet available to you? 

As a 16-year-old in a turbulent election year, I felt that there wasn’t much I could do. Sure, I was pre-registered in California, but that wouldn’t mean anything for another two years. In early September, however, I stumbled across a Twitter post that led me to an online poll worker recruitment project. The idea of experiencing the democratic system firsthand enticed me. I checked in with the school, submitted an application, and within two weeks, I went from feeling hopeless to excited. 

To become a student poll worker, the criteria to apply is minimal. A teacher signature is required, as well as some basic information, including your grades. (You can find more information at Students also need to complete an online training course as well as attend an in-person class.

Getting your application approved isn’t difficult, but the hours are. In addition to the training beforehand, students work one weekend, 9 am to 8 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and on election day from 6 am to 9 pm. If this seems outrageous to you, it’s because it is. However, student workers do earn a stipend– that is below minimum wage, so it’s not considered a salary– of $380. 

This year was both the easiest it’s been to vote as well as the easiest it’s been to choose not to exercise your democratic right. For one, not only did the California state government issue every voter a mail-in ballot, but many polling centers were open an additional two weeks before election day. What’s more, social media was overflowing with election resources that could help you check your voter registration, your nearest polling center, and more. Voting was more available than ever before, yet it was still undermined. President Trump spent copious amounts of time and energy making sure the American people did not trust the US Postal Service. What about all of those mail-in ballots? To avoid the USPS, those had to be taken to your nearest ballot drop box or polling center, which is a lot farther than your personal mailbox. And, to top it all off, COVID-19 was raging as much as ever. Given the circumstances, low voter turnout was not improbable, so when people actually walked through the doors at my polling center to come vote, we had every right to be excited.

You can bet that in the many hours I spent at my local voting center, I interacted with quite a few people:

The first time voters. These Gen-Zers are the most fun to watch. They’re so excited to be voting; one girl even skipped (yes, like hopscotch) from her booth to the exit. Many of them come with a parent, who is also voting, or turn it into a family outing. One girl walked up to her booth and exclaimed, “I’m so excited!” which pretty much sums up the mood of most of these first time voters.

The cheerful dads. We got quite a few of these, and I’m not mad about it. They do exactly this: they walk in with their young kids (and occasionally a dog) with their mail-in ballot in hand. They’ve already filled it out, and as they approach the ballot box, you can tell they’re smiling, even under the mask. To top it off? They say “thank you” to all the poll workers, then give their “I Voted” sticker to their kid. 

The “new to California” folks. These are people who come to vote at the polling center because they recently moved and are not registered to vote in the state. It goes the same way every time: the check-in clerk says “Welcome to California!” and the voter responds, “I actually grew up here.” Some people can never leave. 

The Karen. Need I say more? Yes, there are Karens in Los Angeles, and yes, sometimes they complain about the lack of privacy you get in your voting booth even though everyone received a mail-in ballot they can fill out at home and even though nobody is looking over your shoulder at your selections– and yes, I’m getting carried away. 

The not-so tech savvy. They’re mostly over the age of 60, and I have to hand it to them. The machine you use to mark your ballot (BMD) in LA County is quite advanced– it’s also new as of the 2020 Primaries. It essentially looks like a giant iPad, and to someone of a generation who didn’t grow up with touch-screen technology, it can probably be intimidating. Lucky for them, we were there to help, and lucky for us, it was quite obvious when they were confused. They would squint their eyes at their screen, look around the room, and then squint at their screen some more. Pro tip: just ask for help! 

Whether you indulge yourself in politics or not, I would encourage anyone who wants to experience the democratic process firsthand to consider being a student poll worker. It’s quite a rewarding experience, and although grueling at times, it is worth it in the end.