Poll workers are the people who organize a polling place, set up voting equipment, greet voters, verify registrations and provide voters with ballots. At the end of the day, poll workers close the polling place and prepare election materials for delivery or actually deliver the material to the elections office. Typically poll workers are required to be a registered voter in the precinct or county where that they are serving. Many states call these people by different titles, such as poll judges.
It is frequently difficult for officials to recruit sufficient poll workers to properly run elections. On average, poll workers make only $100 for a 16 hour day (40 cents more per hour than the federal minimum wage).1 Poll workers must also deal with impatient voters when voting problems and long lines occur.
Even after poll workers are recruited, absenteeism can be a problem. For example, in the 2006 election, 20% of poll workers in Cuyahoga County, Ohio did not show up to work on Election Day.2
There are no national standards for training. Most training is insufficient to cover the material needed to effectively do this job. Moreover, modern elections utilize new forms of technology like computers and touch screens, which is often a difficult adjustment for long time poll workers with limited training or interaction with new technology. The 2008 primary elections in Washington State and Chicago, Illinois provide classic examples of poll worker issues. In Washington, voters were left waiting hours as poll workers hid electronic voting machines because they did not like the touch-screen devices.3 Similarly, in Chicago, poll workers passed out pens meant for e-voting machines. When those instruments made no mark on paper ballots, election workers said the pens were full of invisible ink.4 Across the country poll workers implement restrictive identification provisions that are not required by law and force voters to vote by provisional ballot when they should be voting a regular ballot.
In an effort to combat these problems, states have attempted to recruit younger volunteers. For example, the state of Indiana reduced the required poll worker age from 18 to 16.5 Other jurisdictions have considered giving college students some academic credit for serving at the polls. In addition, some corporations and government programs now permit employees to be poll workers without losing pay.