Mere weeks away from Election Day, a critical element of voting in the United States remains disrupted by the pandemic: poll workers. Most poll workers are older and more at risk of complications from COVID-19—creating the potential for a shortage of workers on Nov. 3.
That’s a problem that Chicago Booth alum Avi Stopper, MBA’06, wanted to help solve. His non-partisan startup project Poll Hero—launched with college- and high-school-aged co-founders—is mobilizing young people around the country to work as paid poll workers this fall.
“We want to help young people make a major impact on the functioning of their democracy,” Stopper said. “To help make it possible for anyone who wants to vote in person to be able to do so.”
What started in July as a germ of an idea has evolved into a team of more than 100 people coordinating a complex effort across more than 50,000 jurisdictions in the U.S. In just over three months, the project has recruited more than 30,000 young Americans to train as poll workers.
In the final weeks leading of the 2020 election season, Poll Hero staff are making sure these aspiring poll workers can properly register to work, recruiting additional candidates, and developing “day-of” election planning to make sure these mostly rookie poll workers arrive at the appointed time ready to contribute to the democratic process.
The youth-oriented focus of Poll Hero is a natural fit for Stopper, a veteran entrepreneur who co-founded youth sports recruiting platform CaptainU in 2008 with Michael Farb, MBA’09. Their startup won the 2008 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, and was acquired in 2016 by Stack Sports, a global sports technology company.
“My experience with CaptainU was an absolutely formative experience in the constant barrage of failed experiments,” Stopper said with a laugh. “I came to embrace an Edison quote as one of my go-to sayings about entrepreneurship, which is: ‘I haven’t failed, I’ve just learned 10,000 ways not to do it.’”
Early in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on one of Stopper’s other startup efforts. At the same time, he recognized the need to help foster widespread civic engagement—especially this year. “I think it’s an all-hands-on-deck election,” he said. “I started looking for ways to get involved.”