Marching. Voter Registration. Running for Committeeperson.
These are just some of the ways people have shown their interest in local politics. However, there has been one form of engagement that seems to be overlooked: working the polls on Election Day.
There are a minimum of 5,058 people needed to fully staff the 1,686 polling places in Philadelphia. According to recent data from the City Commissioner's website, only about 51 percent of elected seats are filled. In fact, 28 percent of polling places don't even have a Judge of Elections, the lead position on the Election Board.
This presents an opportunity for a few thousand Philadelphians to participate in democracy, fulfill a civic duty and quite frankly, make a little extra cash.
Each member of the Election Boards make $95 to $100 a day, plus $30 if you attend a one-hour training. Staffers are either signing people in, resetting the machines and troubleshooting questions. You are also responsible for a fair and honest election, and protecting voters rights. There may be an occasional hiccup, a machine breaking down, someone needing translation services that aren't easily accessible (and if you can serve as an Election Day translator, that pays $75 for the day). Though it's a long day, most jobs can be done sitting down. With voter turnout in the city an unfortunate 17 percent last May, it can be a slow day.
But ask any of the hard working people who currently serve on Election Day, the authors of this oped included, and you'll hear how much we love it. We love seeing our neighbors, hearing local news from the block, and, depending on who your Ward Leader is, you may even get a free hoagie for lunch.
Speaking of Ward Leaders, this is traditionally how seats are filled: by Ward Leaders encouraging constituents to run for these positions. With several new Ward Leaders throughout the city, and many newly politically engaged residents, there is a real opportunity to fill these seats. And it's not just people already involved in local politics that are eligible — any registered voter 18 or older can participate. That means high school students should also be encouraged. All Philly public schools are already closed that day, and many require or encourage students to complete community service. It's a natural way to connect students to civic engagement. It also looks great on college applications and to add to a young person's resume.
Positions won't be up for re-election until 2022 but there are still ways to join thousands of others as poll workers this November. Seek out your Ward Leader and ask them to help you get an appointment from the Court of Common Pleas: Trial Division. You may also be elected the morning of Election Day through what is known as a curbside election — a very Philly-sounding term where there is a vote by other Election Board members.
Ask yourself, do you have the privilege of taking Paid Time Off from work? Are you under-employed and can use some extra cash? Are you a guardian, parent or yourself a high school students who is 18 or older? If the answer is yes to any of these, then the City of Philadelphia needs your help. We must build a consistent pipeline of poll workers, especially with new machines on the horizon. With all of the political energy across the city, collectively we should be able to fill the 49 percent of open seats on our local Election Boards.