How Power the Polls helped to solve Election Day poll worker shortage

The nonprofit far exceeded its goal to register more than 250,000 new poll workers.

Image via Power the Polls' Instagram page.
Image via Power the Polls' Instagram page.

Campaign: Power the Polls
Company: Power the Polls (nonprofit)
Agency partners: BerlinRosen (PR, media relations), Impactual (creative) 
Duration: June 2020 - present

Power the Polls set the ambitious goal of registering more than 250,000 new poll workers, in the lead up to the November 3 presidential election.

The U.S. was facing a shortage of poll workers, an issue amplified by the pandemic.

“We have this unprecedented crisis and the majority of traditional poll workers are older,” said Kiara Pesante Haughton, an SVP in BerlinRosen’s advocacy practice. For many of these workers, showing up to man the polls was a situation where “their literal lives could be at risk.”

Power the Polls was founded in June to address this shortage by recruiting new members. Supported by a coalition of other nonprofits and businesses including Patagonia, Uber and MTV, it initially set out with the goal of registering 250,000 new (primarily younger) workers. 

That goal was hit on September 1, causing Power the Polls to increase its target to 350,000 people.

BerlinRosen focused on media strategy to get the word out about the initiative. This included pitching traditional outlets, with a focus on sharing real-life stories of people who had signed up for the first time to be poll workers during the primaries. 

“We knew we had a window of time to reach people wherever they might be,” said Haughton.

In this regard, the campaign was a return to traditional PR.

“There weren’t a lot of stunts or things that were out of the ordinary,” Haughton explained.

Instead, the core media strategy depended on “good writing, good pitching, being responsive and working against an editorial calendar,” she added.

The focus was always on telling compelling stories featuring first-time workers, such as a piece in Vogue that included interviews with young poll workers in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Maine, Nevada, Florida and Nebraska. 

All the while, Power the Polls harnessed its network of partners. Multiple companies, including Gap, Warby Parker and Target, agreed to provide their employees with paid time off so they could work the polls on election day. 

With the help of the earned media push, Power the Polls far exceeded its goal, reaching more than 700,000 sign ups by October 23.

The earned media efforts resulted in more than 200 placements, including coverage in top-tier publications such as Today, NBC News, AP, Vogue, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

The initiative is ongoing. Currently, Power the Polls is focused on poll worker recruitment efforts ahead of the runoff election in Georgia. 

For Caitlin McNamee, an account supervisor at BerlinRosen, one of the campaign’s most exciting results is how many young people want to do it again.

“This isn’t just 2020 and done; they want to be a poll worker for elections to come,” she said. “I think the lasting impact is really remarkable.”

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in