Watauga County seeks younger poll workers due to COVID-19

Abi Pepin, Reporter

In Watauga County, the average age of poll workers is 70 years old. According to the CDC, adults 65 years and older are more likely to die from COVID-19, which has led the Watauga County BOE to search for younger poll workers this election season.

“We are looking to recruit nearly 200 people to work election day,” Snyder said. “We lost about 20% of our poll workers this year because of COVID-19 concerns.”

Snyder said the BOE is also looking for people to sanitize “high-touch areas” and people to help on election night to bring back supplies. The workers will hand out individual pens, gloves and masks. Hand sanitizer will be at the entrance and exit of all sites.

At the App State voting site specifically, Snyder said the board needs about 20 workers for early voting and 10 for Election Day.

High school students who are at least 17 years old can apply to be a “student election assistant.” Roles of a student election assistant are similar to a general poll worker.

Another position is on the Multi-partisan Assistance Team. The county board appoints this group to help with absentee voting for voters in facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals.

Snyder said other than learning how elections work and meeting new people, workers get paid for their time worked and training. 

“Working as an election official is a great way to serve your community,” Matt Snyder said. “You get to help your friends and neighbors in the most important aspect of our democracy, voting.”

The Watauga County BOE requires workers to be proficient at typing and have basic computer skills. Watauga County workers get paid $9 to $12 an hour.

Alejandro-Celeste Escareño, an App State alumna, worked during in the November 2018 election.

Escareño’s duties included registering voters on the computer, ensuring all their personal information was correct and passing out ballots.

Training consisted of 3 to 5 days of videos and demonstrations of how to work each area of the site, she said.

Escareño said the training also included demonstrations of how to use the systems, how to properly secure ballots and other protocols to ensure everything is done correctly. 

“It was something I was always interested in,” Escareño said. “It’s important to understand your county and local government and how these turnouts reflect on a national scale.”

With 15 electoral votes up for grabs, North Carolina is a huge battleground state in this upcoming election. In past presidential races, the difference between candidates was only a small percentage.

In 2016, President Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nearly 4%.