**This is a guest blog post from Phil Martin and Carrie Taylor of the AmeriCorps Alumni Election Integrity Project.
The poll worker shortage sparked by COVID-19 threatens the integrity of the 2020 elections. AmeriCorps alumni can help fight this fire — ensure voting is safe, fair, and accessible — by signing up to serve as poll workers in their local communities.
In the 2020 primary, Milwaukee was forced to close all but 5 of 180 polling locations. Election officials across the country – including in Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio – have sounded the alarm on shortages of poll workers because of COVID-19. Officials of both major parties predict fewer polling locations, shorter voting hours, and increased stress on vote-from-home systems unless the poll worker shortage is addressed.
AmeriCorps alumni are uniquely positioned to help address the poll worker shortage caused by COVID-19, which threatens the integrity of the 2020 elections.
Across the country, there are over a million AmeriCorps alumni. Most are younger than the senior citizens who often work elections. Each served their country by participating in a year or more of civilian national service. They’ve tutored children, cleared trails, built houses, and helped communities recover from fires and hurricanes. And their commitment to making America “safer, stronger, and healthier,” didn’t end when they completed their term of service. Each AmeriCorps member pledged to “seek common ground” and “get things done for America…this year and beyond.” If ever there was a time for that pledge to mean something, this is it.
Current AmeriCorps members can help, too, on their own time.
While the Corporation for National and Community Service — the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps — prohibits or discourages the 75,000 current AmeriCorps members from participating in election-related activities while in uniform, off-duty AmeriCorps members can work the polls on their own time, in their own clothes, and probably get paid for doing it.
Already, the Power the Polls initiative has registered more than 400,000 potential poll workers. It’s a great start, but many more people are needed to ensure the 2020 election runs smoothly.
The challenges we face as a nation are great. They may seem insurmountable at times. But challenge is nothing new for Americans, nor for AmeriCorps alumni.
Thomas Paine began The American Crisis in December 1776 with that ominous line: “These are the times that try [our] souls.” He could be speaking to us in September 2020. We must find in ourselves the same hope and motivation that Washington’s soldiers found as they crossed frigid waters seeking freedom. While we aren’t now in the throes of revolution, it feels as if the whole country — including the hallmark of our democratic freedom — is at risk of going up in flames. We can’t let that happen. We must help extinguish the fires.
While each of us is affected by the multiple crises facing the country, and certainly some more than others, it will take all of us doing our small part to contain the flames. And protecting our elections for all voters – no matter where they live or which party they belong to – is one of the most important things we can do.
AmeriCorps alumni: Let’s make good on our pledge to “persevere” and “get things done,” even in the midst of crisis. Let’s protect our democracy. Let’s power the polls.
Phil Martin and Carrie Taylor were AmeriCorps teammates in 2003-2004. They are co-coordinators of the newly-launched AmeriCorps Alumni Election Integrity Project, a nonpartisan initiative to recruit AmeriCorps alumni to address the national poll worker shortage resulting from COVID-19. They can be reached at AmeriCorps.Alumni.EIP@gmail.