Volunteers, including GU students, will be working the election night from home this year due to COVID-19. 

Exercising your right to vote is an essential part of democracy, and this presidential election, Gonzaga students have the unique opportunity to not only engage in democracy by voting, but by aiding in election tabulation — collecting the voting data for the election.

The Associated Press (AP), located on the fifth floor of the Lincoln building in downtown Spokane, has been partnering with GU since 2006 to do data collection for elections.

For this year’s presidential election, AP needs 500 people to sign up to work the election, which will include doing training sessions beforehand and participating in election tabulation on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Tabulation will run for about eight hours, and students do not need to be on campus or in Spokane to participate.

“There is no better way to engage in democracy than to be deeply engaged in the election process,” said Susan English, chair of the integrated media department who is also in charge of coordinating with AP.

Students who choose to get involved in data collection on election night will be paid $16 per hour to help AP gather statistical data. Students will be working remotely this year due to COVID-19, and they will call precincts to get election results and file the data into the AP’s database for it to sort.

Some students will also be made into captains, and their role will be to help other students gather the data, answer questions and help with computer issues, English said.

Students interested in signing up for election data collection can email kcruz@ap.org.

For Dana Bloch, the director of the AP Data Center in Spokane, election tabulation is a great way to see how the election process works.

“Specifically with elections, it’s really revealing to see how the sausage is made,” Bloch said. “You hear in the news and from leaders about the trustworthiness of elections and tabulation, and whether you should vote by mail or vote at the polls and whether it’s fake news or fake ballots and things like that, but when you work on the side of counting ballots, I think you see that the process is pretty extraordinary.”

Bloch said that normally for election data collection, everyone participating would be at the AP Data Center in downtown Spokane, but it will be much quieter this year since everything will be done online.

“It won’t sound like a telethon,” Bloch said of this year’s election tabulation.

English also attests to the exciting environment during election nights at the AP Data Center. She said that many faculty members participate as well, and it reminds her of being in the newsroom.

“It takes a lot of manpower, a lot of womanpower to do this,” English said. “Presidential elections are huge, and none are bigger than this.”

Lily Peterman, a junior public relations major who has participated in data collection with AP before, said that data collection is a way you can make a lot of money doing a simple task.

She said she recommends participating in election tabulation because it is a great way to learn more about what happens after you vote.

“It’s a great learning opportunity to understand what happens after you cast your vote and how your vote gets translated to bigger statistics,” Peterman said. “I feel like a lot of people are more aware of the cosmetic election process and the debates, the advertisements, the campaigning, but not a lot of people are aware of the actual voting process and what work needs to go into counting those votes.”

In addition to learning about the complexities of the voting process, Peterman said she appreciated meeting new people, being in the office environment at the AP Data Center and bonding and problem solving with the people she worked with.

“You meet a lot of people and establish a community outside of Gonzaga, which I think is really valuable especially for after college and setting up a foundation for work,” Peterman said.

Bloch said that participating in election tabulation would be a beneficial experience for students because it can help you understand all the different pieces that go into elections.

“There’s really a ton that goes into that and it’s really interesting how that happens,” Bloch said. “And I think that when you’re part of it, it changes your outlook on elections, probably forever.”

Lillian Piel is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @lillianpiel.

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