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Why be a poll worker?

Saturday October 18, 2008

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

“Poll workers are a crucial element of the election process. You can buy new machines, you can educate voters, but really the poll workers are the bridge between the polling place and the voter.”…Doug Chapin, Director of electionline.org

You remember the 2000 presidential election, don’t you? One of my clearest memories of that day and the days and weeks that followed were the complaints by some voters that the poll workers were not helpful, were too old, and were not able to follow the various rules set down by the local registrars of voters. That was the year I made a promise to myself to become involved as a poll worker. I thought back to my youth when my mother served during every election as a poll worker in San Diego county and I said to myself why not continue the tradition. Why leave this burdensome task to only the retired senior citizens? Since 2000 I have tried to work every election in Orange County California and this year I will serve as a pollworker in Pima County Arizona.

Do you know how many Americans are needed to work the polls in any given general election year? It is about 2 million (with the average age of 72)or about 1% of total number of registered voters. When you go to vote you usually are expecting two basic needs to be met: (1) you want the polls to open on time and (2) you want the process to be expedient. But did you ever wonder what goes into meeting these basic needs?

Well, the truth is the parameters vary from state to state, but here are a few basics:
*Each poll worker must be a registered voter in the county they intend to work.
*Each poll-worker must attend a training class, usually about two hours.
*Each poll-worker is expected to study the instruction and reference manual(in Pima County, Arizona, this manual is 43 pages)
*Each poll-worker might be expected to assist in setting up the polling place the evening preceding the election
*Each poll-worker is expected to report to the polls one hour prior to the polls opening. (in Pima County, Arizona, the polls open at 6:00AM)
*Each poll-worker is expected to remain through the 7:00PM closing and to assist in preparing the ballots for shipment to the Registrar’s Office, which can take until 8:30PM. And in Pima County the poll-worker is not to leave the polls for any reason, not even to get something to eat!!!
*Each poll-worker must follow strict guidelines regarding attire (cannot wear anything political in nature)
*Each trained poll-worker is expected to show up, unfortunately it has been reported that 2 out of three 3 trained workers in New York fail to show up on Election Day!
*In Pima County Arizona, each poll-worker will be paid $140 for the 15-17 hours they work!

All of the above aside, the pollworkers are expected to be able to sufficiently answer fairly complicated questions regarding people’s right to vote. If voters arrive at the wrong poll, the pollworker must assist them to find their correct poll, and the list goes on.

I write this today; not just because it is Saturday, but I am hopeful that maybe it will inspire you to think about working the polls. It will give you a whole new perspective on what goes on behind the scenes to insure that we all can exercise our right to vote. See you at the polls…


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