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We have made clear in previous commentary that mail-in voting should plan an important role in the role of our democracy going forward. Although the state Democratic Party has smartly adapted that strategy for their primary this month, Kansas has two other largely in-person elections on the calendar this year.
We encourage the Kansas Legislature, should it return, to expeditiously examine the feasibility of expanding mail-in options. But these upcoming contests will likely still feature polling places, and that means the unprecedented act of staffing and running crucial pieces of our democracy in the middle of a pandemic.
If you’ve voted recently — or ever, for that matter — you are doubtless familiar with the average age of poll workers. They are often elderly. That doesn’t keep them from doing amazing work, of course, but as a high-risk group for COVID-19, they should likely not be spending the day inside, interacting with hundreds or thousands of people in a cramped, airless polling place.
We shouldn’t risk their health just so we can vote.
What does that mean? We need new volunteers. We need new people throughout the state to step up and agree to protect our democracy. These positions are crucial to elections, and technical skills would be valuable as well.
At this point, the Kansas primary election is set for Tuesday, Aug. 4. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3. While public attention often focuses on the high-profile November date, the August contest is often more important for state-level politics. That’s where you will find Republican contests between opponents of various levels of conservatism. The entire character (and efficiency, quite honestly) of the Kansas Legislature can be settled on that day.
So if you are a younger person, if you are someone without underlying health conditions, and if you want to step up and serve your state and country during this time, become a poll worker. You will be helping our state live up to its democratic ideals, yes, and you will also be protecting by proxy the person who would otherwise show up to do the work.
These are difficult tradeoffs in a difficult time. Again, the optimum solution would be to allow and administer widespread mail-in ballots, as other states have done with great success. The practice also allows for increased voter participation.
But absent a transformation of that process over the next three months, the responsibility to protect this process will fall on the shoulders of poll workers. Make us proud.