Grand Rapids resident Leah Bectel got started early in the democratic process. Photo by Leah Bectel
Grand Rapids resident Leah Bectel got started early in the democratic process.

Grand Rapids resident Leah Bectel registered to vote the day she turned 18. She encourages others to get started early on democracy, too. 

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Leah Bectel, 23, is not your average young person — she’s already worked more elections than most individuals will work in their lifetimes.

The Grand Rapids resident, a self-described municipal “engineer by day,” devotes other time towards democratic causes like elections. The Generation Z’er also functions as the statewide League of Women Voters secretary.

The past seven or so years, she has worked between 15 and 20 polls—including two elections in Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She initially worked at one election precinct run by a family friend and the rest was history.

“I’ve always been passionate about voting,”  Bectel said. “I think I registered to vote the day of my 18th birthday, or as soon as I possibly could.”

Leah Bectel

READ MORE: Michigan’s Average Poll Worker Is 74 Years Old. That’s a Problem During the Pandemic.  

 Running The Distance

She originally started as an electronic poll worker who operated computers during elections.

That included attaining poll worker certification training, which she said included about an hour-long session. She underwent additional training in her role operating computers.

Currently, she works as an election “runner” in Georgetown Township, meaning she goes from precinct to precinct to respond to inquiries and deal with situations—such as if someone inadvertently spoiled his or her ballot, or if a registered voter had moved residences and the information in the system wasn’t updated.

At the end of the election, she takes materials from each precinct and prepares them for local and county clerks, as well as the Board of Canvassers. Materials include nuances and getting the right information to the right people.

She said election workers can receive between $200 and $300 from working an election between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. That averages to around $16 per hour.

“Every township is different,” she said. “Some townships are even doing hazard pay for election workers. I’ve noticed that.”

SEE ALSO: What You Need to Know About Registering to Vote in Michigan 

The More The Merrier

This past August was a bit different than other primaries in recent years, due to the ongoing pandemic.

“Generally speaking, most poll workers are retired and on the older side,” Bectel said. “We saw a lot of them not work the election.”

However, she said precincts in her area were able to wrangle up high schoolers who posed fewer health risks. Personal protection equipment and mask wearing aided the process.

But Bectel said it’s still not enough. Each precinct needs five to six workers, she said, and recruiting methods of workers continue. In her case, she reached out to her former high school government teacher—who in turn asked youth if they could participate and get paid to do so.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into an election. … I did elections in high school, I would take a day off,” she said. “And I took all the days off in college, too. (Teachers) understood it was an important thing to do.”

Leah Bectel

SEE ALSO: 

WATCH: After 40 Years of Voting Republican, This Michigan Veteran Is Choosing Biden.

A Hopeful Movement For The Youth 

Turnout this November is anybody’s guess. Bectel said the A/V counting board in Georgetown Township is in a basement, with a tabulator for each precinct. Organizing absentee ballots and running them through is tedious and takes time.

“Those workers do it all day, there’s thousands (of ballots),” she said. “That’s the trouble: we just don’t know if those workers will have enough time to count the ballots.”

In terms of protocol and contingency plans, she said there have been periodic updates from township election staffers. Those who are uncomfortable working polls are encouraged to skip working the election.

Bectel said that because of her age and lack of preexisting conditions, she has no problem working this November. She hopes younger people take the proverbial baton and help in a bigger way.

“Not everyone is going to do absentee voting,” she said. “I think it’s imperative to have as many young people voting as possible, and young people working these elections.”

Leah Bectel

SEE ALSO: How To Become a Poll Worker in Michigan