Beyond the Ballot: Poll Hero

Monday, Nov 30, 2020
by Sabrina Fay ’22, Pace Center Student Correspondent

Beyond the Ballot highlights the actions the Princeton University community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as the ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Ella Gantman, a sophomore potentially concentrating in politics or the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) who is a co-founder of the Poll Hero project in addition to being involved with Vote100 as a fellow.

In the summer of this year, Ella Gantman was approached by a friend who wanted to work on a project recruiting poll workers, especially from the largely untapped demographic of young people. Youth engagement in general is of course a noble goal, but poll workers from lower risk populations were vital this election season. The average poll worker is in their sixties in age, and thus very high risk for COVID-19.

“I consider myself as someone who is politically engaged and had no idea this was such a big issue facing this election, so when I heard about it I wanted to get involved immediately” Gantman says. Being able to recruit younger people to work the polls not only addresses one of this election’s biggest obstacles to a free and fair election and safeguards the health of older individuals who would otherwise be putting themselves at risk, but also encourages youth engagement. And youth engagement is something Gantman has great passion for.

“[Something that] excited me about the project was that it was a Generation Z effort to recruit Generation Z people to work the polls.” Gantman expresses a strong faith in the power of her peers to make change, and sees the Poll Hero Project as proof of that power. “I’ve always been really interested in seeing what young people are capable of,” she says. “So keeping them involved in these conversations is really important. All these issues are going to impact us because we’re going to inherit them, so giving young people a sense of ownership over this world and the legislation that is happening to them is really important.” Poll workers make elections possible, Gantman emphasizes, and she says she finds it truly inspiring and moving to see so many young people getting involved in the civic process and changing the narrative around youth participation. 

And these efforts appear to have worked to great effect; the Poll Hero Project has signed up 37,000 people, with a poll worker in every state and hundreds of students from Princeton University alone. As director of the national college outreach team, Gantman and her colleagues recruited more than 10,000 college students and adapted different techniques to make their communications more effective, whether that meant having professors talk to their classes or even coaches to their athletic teams.

By adapting their techniques and using virtual communication to their advantage, Gantman and her co-founders on the project were able to reach an unprecedented number of people. Though the problem was in part created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gantman recognizes the project would not be as effective and her and the other founders may not have been able to find each other and make it happen otherwise. She thinks anyone looking at what they’ve achieved should also know they did it with no money and a lot of help from volunteers. “We started this with seven students and no money, and [the founders] are still seven students with no money...we were able to make the most change through small, actionable, repeatable steps.” 

Of course, the work is unceasing. Despite the November 3rd election having passed. Having received recognition with the project from national outlets like NPR, CNN, The New York Times, and Washington Post, Gantman wants to capitalize on that momentum moving forward. She thinks the project is something special and the national attention it has garnered is something not every organization gets, so she wants to make as much use of that as possible in moving forward. She assures that whatever work the project moves onto will center young people, and is excited to see what form that will take. 

“One of the recurring messages I’m seeing from everyone we’ve been engaging with is, ‘I have so much hope for your generation’,” Gantman explains. “And that’s a hope I want to continue work that is inspiring and gives hope not just to older people but within our own generation as well.” Though it remains to be seen what form this work will take and what impact it will have, Gantman is sure to make sure it is a positive one.