In most states, poll workers must be qualified or registered electors. Generally, this means they are a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, meet their state’s residency requirements and have no criminal history that would prevent them from voting. Youth poll worker programs are an exception: 46 states allow youth younger than 18 to serve as poll workers. See the next section for more information about youth poll worker programs.
Four states and Puerto Rico are the exceptions to the above information, and do not explicitly require poll workers to be qualified or registered electors:
- California: While California does require that poll workers be voters, the state has a codified exception “in order to promote civic engagement among residents of the state and to provide additional members of precinct boards an elections official may appoint no more than 5 nonvoters per precinct to serve as precinct board members. A nonvoter may be appointed, notwithstanding his or her lack of eligibility to vote, if they are lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States and are otherwise eligible to register to vote except for his or her lack of United States citizenship. A nonvoter appointed to a precinct board pursuant to this subdivision shall not be permitted to serve as, or perform any of the duties of, the inspector of a precinct board or tally votes for the precinct board.” (Cal. Elec. Code §12302)
- Georgia: In order to be a poll worker, you must only be a “judicious, intelligent, and upright” citizen. (Ga. Code Ann. §21-2-92(a))
- Oregon: Oregon only accepts mail-in ballots, so very few traditional poll workers are used; the law does not mention requiring a worker to be a qualified or registered voter.
- Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico’s codified laws do not mention requiring a worker to be a qualified or registered voter.
- Washington: Washington only accepts mail-in ballots, so very few traditional poll workers are used; the law does not mention requiring a worker to be a qualified or registered voter.
Youth poll worker programs are established in 45 states and the District of Columbia as a way for people younger than 18 to participate in Election Day procedures. These programs are often intended to encourage young citizens to engage in voting, registration and democracy.
Five states and five territories have no codified youth poll worker program:
- Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington.
- American Samoa, Guam, Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.
Youth poll workers can be excellent additions to precinct polling places as they can readily learn how to use electronic poll books, assist elderly and disabled voters and, in many states, do the same jobs as adult poll workers. While many states have expanded their laws to allow youth to work as poll workers, a number of these programs are organized at the local level and may be run in conjunction with high schools or community youth programs. Sometimes, counties and precincts can opt-out of establishing youth programs.
States often codify the age that youth can begin working at the polls:
- 15 years old: Missouri
- 16 years old: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland*, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
- 17 years old: Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee,
- Age not specified: Arkansas, Illinois (junior or senior in high school), Virginia
*In 2019, Maryland created a special Election Day page program that permits youth who are at least 14 years old to serve at the polls. A page may not engage in partisan activity, touch a marked ballot, or work more than two four-hour shifts. They serve under direct supervision of election judges (2019 MD S 364).
Some states that permit youth to work at the polls limit the number of poll workers younger than 18. For example:
- In California, not more than five pupils per precinct may serve under the direct supervision of precinct board members designated by the elections official (Cal. Elec. Code §12302(b)(1)).
- In Kansas, no more than one-third of those appointed to each election board may be younger than 18 (Kan. Stat. Ann. § 25-2804(b)).
- In Kentucky no precinct shall have more than one minor serving as an election officer (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 117.045(9)).
Residency requirements can mandate which polling places a worker can serve. Since it can be difficult to find enough poll workers from within specified boundaries of residence, especially the precinct, many states have exceptions to allow workers to come from outside of these boundaries.
In 22 states and two territories poll workers are expected to reside in the precinct, but if there are not enough qualified candidates, then poll workers may come from a wider pool, such as the county, legislative district or even the state:
- Alabama, Alaska*, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire**, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virgin Islands, Virginia
In 21 states and two territories poll workers must reside in the county or election jurisdiction in the states that run elections at the township/municipal level.
- American Samoa, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland*, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina*, Tennessee*, Vermont, West Virginia*, Wisconsin, Wyoming,
In five states and Washington, D.C., poll workers must reside in the state:
- California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota
Oregon and Washington are vote-by-mail states that do not use traditional poll workers and therefore do not have codified residency requirements.
- In Alaska, if local authorities are unable to find enough qualified candidates from among precinct residents, then workers may come from within the election district, and, if needed, then from within the State (Alaska Stat. § 15.10.120).
- In Delaware, workers must reside in the same election district (precinct) as the place they staff; if that is not possible, workers may come from the same representative district as the place they staff (15 Del. Code Ann. §4701).
- In Illinois, workers must reside in the precinct where they are serving, except that not more than one judge from each party may be appointed from outside of the precinct; they must reside within the same county (10 ILCS §5/14-1).
- In Nebraska, workers must reside in the precinct where they serve, unless necessity demands that personnel be appointed from another precinct (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-231).
*States that permit poll workers to be residents of other parts of the state if necessary.
**New Hampshire requires poll workers to be registered to vote at the polling place where they serve.
In order to preserve the fairness of elections, 48 states mandate a specific political party makeup of poll workers. A worker’s party affiliation is sometimes taken from voter registration records or based on the party he or she voted for in the last primary election. In many states, poll workers must be nominated by the local chapter of their political party to serve in affiliation with that party.
- In Delaware, no more than a “bare majority” of poll workers can be from the same political party (15 Del. Code Ann. §4701(a)) and in Iowa no more than a simple majority of members may belong to the same political party (Iowa Code § 49.12).
- In New Mexico, not more than two of the three judges may be from the same political party at the time of their appointment (N.M. Stat. §1-2-12).
- In Minnesota (Minn. Stat. § 204B.19(5)), Ohio (Ohio Rev. Code § 3501.22) and Tennessee (Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-4-105), no more than half of the poll workers may be of the same party.
- In Georgia (Ga. Code Ann. §21-2-90) and Vermont (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 2454), election officials shall attempt to appoint an equal number of persons from each major political party to the best of their abilities.
- In Massachusetts (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, §13) and Virginia (Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-115), no more than one-third of the total number of poll workers can be unaffiliated or not represented by any political party.
Two states don’t have requirements for poll workers to come from different parties, but still have a role for political parties in choosing poll workers:
- California has no party affiliation requirement for poll workers, but political parties may nominate residents of precincts to serve on the precinct board; the county election official shall give preference to the nominee of any qualified political parties with at least 10% of the registered voters in the precinct (Cal. Elec. Code §12300, §12306).
- Connecticut does not require party affiliation except for unofficial checkers. The chairman of a political party in each town can appoint up to four unofficial checkers per polling place per shift who are enrolled in their party (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-235).