Amid an unmistakably momentous election season, Sukhmani Singh, a senior double majoring in political science and sustainability, said this year's heightened and divided political climate has made her realize voting was not the only way to enact change during the 2020 election.
Encouraged by poll working advertisements put out by Undergraduate Student Government Tempe, Singh was hired alongside three other ASU students to become poll worker fellows for the Campus Vote Project.
"I think first and foremost voting is the most important thing," Singh said. "But ... what I've realized this year is, honestly, one of the tenets to making sure you're able to vote is this poll worker position."
As a nonpartisan organization intent on institutionalizing voter turnout among universities across the country, the CVP will be working with ASU for the first time as a part of its new initiative to hire students to recruit young poll workers.
During election seasons, poll workers are tasked with setting up and taking down polling locations, assisting voters through the election process, issuing ballots and verifying voter identification and registrations.
But this year, locations across the country, including Maricopa County, reported a shortage of poll workers during the primary election due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traditionally, older generations have consistently accounted for a majority of poll workers. They also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, account for the age group most susceptible to the more severe consequences of COVID-19.
Zachary Price, the south regional coordinator of student poll workers for the CVP, explained the initiative to recruit students was created as a way to adapt to older poll workers staying home to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
The CVP reached out to areas it knew needed more poll workers based on conversations with elections officials, including the Maricopa County Recorder's Office.
"We knew... that major counties in Arizona were running short of workers during the primary process," Price said. "We work with (elections officials) to make sure we're helping them fill their needs for election workers the best way we can."
Singh said she felt shocked when she realized the work older generations have unceasingly volunteered to do during election seasons, adding that it is now up to younger generations to fill their positions.
"I would have never been able to vote before if our elderly community didn't consistently step up and fill this position," Singh said. "It's up to our generation to let them stay safe at home."
While expected to take up a poll worker's routine tasks on Election Day, the CVP poll worker fellows are also entrusted with spreading the importance of elections to college campuses and recruiting other students to work the polls.
For poll worker fellow Lauren Dorn, recruitment has included introducing the CVP's poll worker position to her classes.
Dorn, a sophomore studying political science, also said much of her outreach has been with other political science majors.
"They seem extremely enthusiastic to sign up and to be a part of this," Dorn said. "I think it's definitely important that everybody performs their civic duty and keeps our democracy alive."
Singh said she has found social media to be the most successful way to reach out to students for recruitment. She said she actively retweets election information on Twitter and even posted a video to her Instagram encouraging young voters to take up poll worker positions.
"Our job is to have as many student hands on deck for whenever Maricopa County decides to call them to the polls," Singh said. "I had a lot of people share (the video) and reach out and express their interest."
Dorn said Maricopa County will be going "the whole nine yards" to ensure the election process stays safe and follows CDC guidelines.
On top of traditional poll working duties, the CVP fellows will hand out masks and hand sanitizer while welcoming voters to polls on Election Day. According to the Maricopa County Elections Department, poll workers will be required to wear masks and latex gloves. Poll workers will even be provided with face shields they will be encouraged to wear at polling locations.
"If we don't have enough poll workers, there are going to be ... less sanitary conditions," Dorn said. "It is ultimately the responsibility of Maricopa County to provide their own workers with safety gear, which they will."
Price said the CVP's recruitment initiative has been received by students with excitement and interest and believes the poll worker shortage induced by the pandemic has given young people new opportunities to engage in politics.
"It's really rewarding getting to work with college students on an issue that is important and make sure that we have enough folks to staff the polls and have a healthy, free and fair election in the coming weeks," Price said.