28-Year-Old Phoenician Volunteers to Work Polls to Protect Older Arizonans

headshot of Jesse Washnock-Schmid

By Jessica Swarner

September 14, 2020

“I think that this election, at least in my lifetime, is the most consequential election that we’ve had thus far.” 

Jesse Washnock-Schmid is not your typical poll worker. He’s a young, healthy millennial, who is far from retirement. 

And that’s exactly why the 28-year-old Phoenician signed up to help man a polling location this fall. 

“Traditionally, the people that work the polls are older people who … just do it because they like to do that. But with the virus, I think it’s more dangerous for people to go out and vote,” Washnock-Schmid told The Copper Courier. “So I’m a young, healthy individual and I feel like I can contribute … [and] even if I contract the virus, I can be relatively sure that I’ll be fine.” 

According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, most poll workers are retirees in their 60s and 70s who are at elevated risk for the virus. 

While young people can still get very sick and even die from the virus, people ages 65-74 are hospitalized at a rate five times higher than those aged 18-29, and they die at a rate 90 times higher.

RELATED: Arizona Asks Younger People to Sign Up as Poll Workers to Save Seniors

Because of this, the state and voting advocacy groups have been encouraging younger people to volunteer in the usual workers’ places.

“They have tirelessly performed these duties year after year, election after election. But their age and health conditions put them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19,” the website for the Secretary of State’s Office reads. “We can help protect them and honor their service by passing the torch to Arizonans who are at lower risk.” 

Washnock-Schmid, a scientific sales representative and a volunteer for NextGen America, heard that message loud and clear. He came across an organization called Power the Polls encouraging people like him to become a poll worker, so he signed up. 

He wants to make sure that a lack of poll workers due to COVID-19 isn’t anyone’s reason for not being able to participate in the election. 

“It’s just basically about ensuring that people have the ability to take advantage of that right that they have to vote, and ensuring that can happen even in the midst of a pandemic,” he said.

Much at Stake 

Washnock-Schmid has voted in three previous presidential elections and believes this one, between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, is the most important one yet. 

“I think that this election, at least in my lifetime, is the most consequential election that we’ve had thus far,” he said. 

The environment is one of the top issues igniting Washnock-Schmid’s activism. He said he feels the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is setting the country backwards. 

RELATED: These Young Arizona Immigrants Can’t Vote. But They’re Helping Others Do So This Fall.

Washnock-Schmid also thinks the president’s handling of the virus has caused unnecessary deaths. 

“I think Trump is patting himself on the back for doing such a great job when really it’s been something he hasn’t taken responsibility for,” he said. 

And when it comes to recent protests against racial inequality, Washnock-Schmid said he sees Trump as “stoking divisions, getting people more riled up.” 

“I just think overall that he is a very divisive president and that he is really detrimental not only to the United States but also to the world as a whole,” he added.

Voting Safely

Even though Washnock-Schmid has mostly already decided who he’s voting for, he plans to vote by mail so he can have all the time he needs to look up more information. 

“I’m going to vote by mail … just because it’s easier and I like the ability to have the ballot with me and do my research as I’m filling it out,” he said. 

And he’d like to see the rest of Arizona and the US follow suit for safety reasons. 

RELATED: The Copper Courier’s Guide to Voting in Arizona in 2020

“I think that even if I do get COVID, the risk of it being fatal is very, very low, but it’s still a risk,” he said. “I think I feel overall, I’m comfortable with it obviously because I volunteered, but if everyone could vote from mail, that would be the ideal situation.” 

About 80% of Arizonans already opt to vote by mail. But to make sure the rest of the population can vote in person, Washnock-Schmid hopes to see more millennials get involved in civic engagement. 

“Let’s buck the trend of people thinking that we’re apathetic towards these things,” he said. 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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