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2 easy things you can do to defend democracy

op-ed

By Lauren Cristella and Jeff Greenburg

Amid all the electoral stressors we’re facing in 2024, Pennsylvania – one of the most important states in this election – is facing a crisis. Not only are there existential threats to democracy by bad actors, but we’re losing experienced county election officials across the state and it’s been difficult to fill critical poll worker positions. This issue is especially dire in Northeast Philadelphia, where polling places are far too frequently understaffed.

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Luckily, there is something ordinary Pennsylvanians can do to help safeguard our elections. But we need to act fast.

Democracy works better when we earn and hold trust: in local election officials, in the integrity of our systems and in each other. The best way to build trust and improve our political culture is to get involved and become a part of the democratic process. And the best way to do that is by becoming a poll worker.

Poll workers are responsible for overseeing the operations of polling places across Pennsylvania. As a poll worker, you gain visibility into the process and are able to witness the system in action for yourself.

Poll workers are members of our own communities who collectively dedicate countless hours before, during and after Election Day to ensure all of us have the opportunity to make our voices heard by voting. They’re vital to the democratic process and receive comprehensive training to keep things running smoothly and make sure it is easy to vote.

Poll workers represent every party, because administering and protecting the process is a bipartisan responsibility. It’s important to note that counties need poll workers for every election, twice a year every year, not just during presidential elections. Local elections are just as important as federal elections, and the need for poll workers doesn’t go away after 2024. While the need for poll workers this year is critical, we need Pennsylvanians to step up and commit to being civically engaged this year and beyond.

Another great option to participate is as a poll watcher, who like poll workers, are our neighbors, and likewise play an important role in ensuring elections are administered properly. Poll watchers are selected by the candidates and parties and certified by the counties. As their title implies, they are there primarily to observe the election process.

Although some bad actors have tried to weaponize poll watchers and use them to fearmonger, important safeguards exist to ensure their positions are used to increase transparency, not for intimidation.

Poll watchers must be registered voters in the county where they are working and must carry a certificate issued by the county. Watchers are issued only one certificate, but they are permitted to watch anywhere in the county.

Together, poll workers and poll watchers form a firewall against fraud. The more people are involved in the electoral process, the more they can see for themselves how free, fair, safe and secure that process is.

The Committee of Seventy wants to ensure anyone interested in serving as a poll worker or poll watcher feels ready for Election Day. That’s why we’re offering information sessions on these roles from now until Election Day. It’s never too late to get involved in your community’s elections, so please consider joining us for these important sessions.

The best antidote to anxiety over the state of democracy is action. Serving in these important roles will strengthen democracy and provide some much-needed reassurance during a trying time. ••

Lauren Cristella is president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that has promoted, supported and facilitated government ethics and election integrity for over a century.

Jeff Greenburg is senior adviser on election administration at the Committee of Seventy. From 2007 to 2020, he served as the director of elections in Mercer County, Pa., where he administered 28 elections.

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