City News

Madison poll workers sign up in droves ahead of the November election

Six-thousand Madison residents volunteered to work the polls on Election Day as the city prepares to collect absentee ballots and institute protocols to ensure safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Six-thousand Madison residents volunteered to work the polls on Election Day as the city prepares to collect absentee ballots and institute protocols to ensure safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Image By: Graphic by Zoe Bendoff

The City of Madison hired an unprecedented 6,000 poll workers this fall in anticipation for the upcoming Nov. 3 election, a total that dwarfs recent election cycles.

The Madison City Clerk’s Office announced in late September that applications regarding poll work would no longer be considered because all 6,000 positions had been filled. This year’s turnout almost doubled that of past presidential election cycles, according to city officials. 

Deputy Clerk Jim Verbick believes the city’s implementation of proper protective measures to keep election officials and voters safe played a role in the rising interest in poll work. 

“I think much of the public feel a call to service to personally see that this election goes smoothly,” Verbick said. 

The upsurge follows a previous shortage this past April when concerns surrounding COVID-19 caused many poll workers — a large proportion of whom are older residents — to avoid volunteering. The shortage of poll workers resulted in long lines and waiting periods at polling stations, particularly in urban areas. 

As the pandemic continues to threaten older volunteers, younger generations including UW-Madison students have filled the void, making up a considerable portion of new poll workers.

The Clerk’s Office, which gathers information on poll workers on election days, confirmed a steady increase in student volunteers between the April and August elections. 

Reagan Eckley, a senior at UW-Madison who volunteered as a poll worker in past elections, also noticed a significant increase in student participation during the 2020 election cycle.

“I remember when I worked the polls in 2018 there would be one to two other students there with me, but most other volunteers were in their 60s and 70s,” Eckley said. “This past August, I noticed a lot more students working at the polls and I know so many more students are signed up for this upcoming election.”  

First time poll volunteer and UW junior Zack Hurst attributed “civic duty” as the reason for why he decided to become a poll worker this year. 

“To me, volunteering as a poll worker is a way I can do my part and be involved in a local election,” Hurst said. “I just want to do my part to make sure this election goes smoothly.” 

The City Clerk’s Office hopes the influx in volunteers will help with absentee ballot processing on Election Day. The city issued over 99,354 absentee ballots to Madison residents of which 64,328 (or 64.7%) have been returned. 

“It helps to have a larger pool of ‘rapid response’ officials who we can move around to different polling places as needed, because they can help the processing of the large number of absentee ballots at each polling place,” Verbick said. “We will be tracking throughout the day how many absentee ballots have been processed, and can send help to those polling places that need help keeping pace to process all absentees by the close of polls.”

Voters can still request mail-in ballots until Oct. 29 and vote as early as Oct. 20. Poll workers will be present at ballot drop-off sites to serve as witnesses while collecting ballots.

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