On Sept. 1, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) contacted the American Bar Association about the unprecedented challenges associated with the upcoming 2020 elections, including the pressing threat of a severe shortage of poll workers. Many experienced poll workers, who are primarily over 60 years old and at higher risk from coronavirus, are opting to stay home this year, thereby creating the need for innovative solutions and a call to action.
Senator Warner cites the Ohio Supreme Court’s plan to give continuing legal education credit to lawyers who volunteer as poll workers as one of those innovative solutions and asks other jurisdictions to explore similar credit alternatives for attorneys to further meet this need. Warner recognizes that “[n]ot only does this solution ensure . . . a lower-risk and well-qualified candidate pool to replace the absent poll workers in November, but it also serves to place legal minds on the front lines of our democracy.”
The ABA is also pursuing an innovative solution to mobilize lawyers across the nation to serve as poll workers. On Sept. 8, in partnership with the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors, the ABA launched Poll Worker, Esq. to encourage lawyers and law students to help. Serving as a poll worker is integral to assuring a free and fair election, and lawyers are especially well suited to assist.
The poll worker shortage during the primary season forced some states to close polling sites this summer, leading to long lines. If polling locations are reduced in November, some experts have warned that it could disproportionately affect the Black community because Black people, particularly those who are middle-aged and older, prefer to vote in person rather than by mail.
As part of the ABA Poll Worker, Esq. initiative, the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law established a website that includes a video encouraging the legal community to volunteer and explaining how to sign up. The ABA also launched social media campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with the hashtag #PollWorkerEsq.
“We are encouraging our members to share this information broadly and are reaching out to state and local bars, affinity bar associations and other legal organizations to help promote this effort,” ABA President Trish Refo said in her Sept. 11 letter replying to Sen. Warner.
Refo also sent a communication to the deans of the more than 200 ABA-accredited law schools to encourage them to provide information to their law students, faculty and staff on the opportunity to serve their communities as poll workers.
The ABA has longstanding policy encouraging law firms and other legal employers to allow time spent by lawyers as official poll workers to qualify as community service or voluntary public service hours and for non-lawyer staff to be allowed paid leave to serve as poll workers.
On the same day Senator Warner wrote to the ABA, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing Sept. 1, 2020, as National Poll Worker Recruitment Day. One week later, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and six cosponsors introduced S. 4540, the Poll Worker Recruitment Act of 2020 to allow individuals to serve as poll workers during the upcoming election if they are registered to vote in their state, even if they are registered in a county or jurisdiction other than the one where they are serving as a poll worker.