More young poll workers may be at Lehigh Valley election sites in November

Written by on October 5, 2020

More young poll workers may be at Lehigh Valley election sites in November

By Haley O’Brien

October 5, 2020

Photo | Haley O’Brien / WLVR

Lehigh County election officials say many younger newcomers are stepping up to work the polls in this election, filling in gaps left by retirees who don’t want to risk exposure to COVID.

31-year-old Richie Warmkessel of Allentown will work the polls for the first time this November. 

“I intended to vote by mail. It was my intention to not leave my house on Election Day, until I realized just how important this election is going to be. I’m really excited to be out in the community and see people vote and have that feeling that I’m helping people get something done,” he said.

Retirees usually make up the bulk of poll workers. But Lehigh County elections director Timothy Benyo says many of the older volunteers opted out this year because of COVID risks.

“Completely understandable, too, because of the situation,” said Benyo. 

But after the word got out that there might be a shortage, younger people responded.

“We usually put about 1,000 people out on election day. We were down to about 800, and about 400 of the 800 were new.” 

Benyo says Lehigh County is not in dire straits, but they could always use more help.

Election officials expect a higher voter turnout from younger generations as well.

“More and more I think 18, 21, 28-year-olds are realizing these are important issues for them. For quality of life, things that are happening in our country, and they’re getting involved,” said Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong.

That’s true for 29-year-old Richard Pany of Allentown, who says he didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election.

“I was in college and kind of didn’t want to go through the whole process of an absentee ballot because I was across the state,” said Pany.

He did vote in the 2016 presidential election, and he’s voting again this year.

There’s a lot at stake, says county executive Armstrong. He points to George McGovern’s campaign from the 1972 presidential election as an example.

“He promised all the 18-year-olds he would get out of Vietnam immediately, and Richard Nixon won overwhelmingly because they didn’t vote.”

Social media may have played a part in getting people involved, and this year, many major employers like Target and Old Navy are paying their staff to work the polls.

Pennsylvania election officials say there is an ongoing need for volunteers all over the state, including bilingual poll workers. They’re urging anyone interested to contact their county elections office. 

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Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Richard Pany didn’t vote in the last presidential election because he was college. It has now been updated to say that he did vote in the 2012 election because he was in college, but he did vote in 2016.

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