With the November election less than two weeks away, Santa Cruz County has received 1,717 applications for the 430 available poll worker positions, according to Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin.

“We’re usually begging [for poll workers],” Pellerin said. “It’s now cool to be working in a voting location and doing your public service.” 

People are in a socially distant line, waiting to go into a voting center; they are thinking about the pandemic, California wildfires, and the election.
Illustration by Allison Che.

Poll workers are responsible for preparing polling stations and assisting with any voting questions or issues. According to the U.S. Elections Commission, 58 percent of poll workers in the 2018 general election were over the age of 60. With the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials have urged younger voters to work the polls. 

“I felt the need to do something more than simply vote this time around,” said UC Santa Cruz linguistics professor Zsuzsanna Abrams, who’s volunteering as a poll worker for the first time this year. “I also felt that most people I’ve seen working at the polls have been retirees in the past. Since some of those people may not feel comfortable working the polls due to COVID-19, I felt it was my responsibility to step up to the plate.”

For their time, poll workers are granted a daily stipend that varies by county. In Santa Cruz County, lead poll workers getting a $510 stipend for four days, while clerks get a $410 stipend for the four days. 

Questions and concerns regarding poll workers and poll watchers have recently entered the national dialogue, as President Trump has derided both mail-in and in-person voting.

Citizens are allowed to observe election proceedings as partisan poll watchers in most states, with some restrictions. Certified partisan poll watchers cannot interact with voters or question their voting eligibility or preferences. Recently, however, non-certified poll watchers were advocating on behalf of Trump in Philadelphia. 

In California, electioneering must remain at least 100 feet from a polling station, meaning poll workers and watchers cannot display any explicitly partisan clothing or paraphernalia while working or observing within the voting location.

“As we do every election, the Secretary of State’s office will be deploying poll observers across the state to monitor voting,” said Sam Mahood, press secretary for the California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in an email. “If any Californian believes their voting rights are being denied, they should contact their local elections officials or the Secretary of State’s office.”

This year, polling stations are open for four consecutive days and staffed by poll workers in 8 hour shifts, with an exception for Election Day itself, on which the polls will be open substantially longer. In-person voting will be available at a variety of locations in Santa Cruz County on Oct. 31: 9AM - 5PM, Nov. 1: 9AM -5PM, Nov. 2: 8AM - 5PM and Nov. 3: 7AM - 8PM

In spite of local wildfires and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Zsuzsanna Abrams believes participating in the election process is still vital. 

“I’m not sure how many people are planning to show up on the four days of in-person voting, as opposed to the people who have already voted by mail,” Abrams said. “I’ll do my bit to stay safe and to keep others safe. While COVID-19 is obviously on everyone’s mind, it’s also important to offer people the opportunity to vote.” 

In-person voting will be available throughout Santa Cruz County between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3. In-person voting will be available on campus Nov. 2 and 3 at Merrill College.