Election Poll Workers

8/19/2019

poling place sign

Overview

Every year, millions of Americans travel to their local polling places to cast their ballots. Though voting methods in the past few years have trended toward mail-in or absentee ballots, voting in person at the polls remains the most popular voting method.

According to the 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) report released by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) more than 200,000 polling places were opened and staffed by more than 600,000 poll workers in 2018. Most of these poll workers are part-time, temporary employees hired by local election officials to staff polling places during early voting and on Election Day. Polling places average about eight on-staff workers for the whole day.

A poll worker’s job begins even before Election Day, as many states require workers to attend a training prior to staffing. Additionally, sometimes poll workers must work at the polling place the night before or the morning of Election Day to set up all the voting equipment. Once voters arrive, a poll worker’s tasks can include checking voter IDs, distributing ballots, helping elderly and disabled citizens vote, updating voter registration information and maintaining a safe and orderly polling place. Once the last voter has cast his or her ballot, workers must make sure every paper ballot that was distributed is accounted for, and sometimes they are required to count the ballots as well. 

Because poll workers are hired by local officials, requirements for the job can vary county to county and state to state. Even the official name given to a poll worker varies. They may be called election clerks, election judges, inspectors or commissioners.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about poll workers and their job requirements with answers from the 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia.

A document with more detailed statutory information and citations is available on request by emailing elections-info@ncsl.org.

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Must a Poll Worker Be a Voter?

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.

What States Have Youth Poll Worker Programs? What are Their Requirements?

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)).

Where Must a Poll Worker Reside to Serve at a Polling Place?

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.

For example:

  • 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.

Is There a Mandated Political Party Distribution Among Poll Workers?

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.

For example:

  • 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).

Can Poll Workers Work Part Time or in a Split Shift?

The day of poll workers can sometimes start before the sun as they arrive at the polling place early to make sure everything is in place. When the last vote has been cast, the workers must conduct a thorough check of all voting materials to make sure everything is accounted for before cleaning up and packing out. This can lead to a 15-hour work day, which can pose a challenge for poll worker recruitment. With that in mind, 18 states allow workers to work part time or in a split shift:

  • Alabama: Any worker except the inspector may work a split shift schedule where each shift is at least six hours long (Ala. Code § 17-8-1(c)).
  • Arkansas: For every worker, half days or split shifts are allowed as long as the requisite number of officials are present at all times (Ark. Code Ann. § 7-4-107(d)).
  • Connecticut: The registrar of voters may establish two shifts at each polling place for all election officials except for the moderator (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-258a). Voting tabulators may work in two shifts as established by the registrar of voters (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-233). Unofficial checkers may work in two or more shifts as established by the registrar of voters (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-235 (a)- § 9-235a).
  • Indiana: With the exception of the inspector, workers may be split into morning and afternoon shifts (Ind. Code §3-6-6-10).
  • Maryland: Election judges other than the chief judge may serve for less than the full day (Md. Elec. Law §10-202(e)).
  • Minnesota: An election judge may serve for all or part of Election Day as long as the minimum number of judges is always present. The head election judge must serve for all of Election Day and be present in the polling place unless another election judge has been designated by the head election judge to perform the functions of the head election judge during any absence (Minn. Stat. § 204B.22).
  • Missouri: Election judges may be appointed for the first or last half of Election Day, but at least one election judge from each political party must serve a full day (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 115.081).
  • Montana: A judge or chief election judge may work less than a full day as long as at least three judges (including a chief election judge) are on duty at all times (Mont. Code Ann. § 13-4-207).
  • Nebraska: Election judges, clerks and precinct inspectors may serve for part of the time that the polls are open (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-223(3)).
  • New Jersey: Workers can be divided into two shifts except for the judge and inspector (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 19:6-9.1).
  • New York. Inspectors are allowed to work a split shift as long as one inspector from each major political party is always present (N.Y. Elec. Law §3-400(7)).
  • North Carolina: Election judges and the chief judge must serve the full day, but, at the discretion of the county board of elections, a precinct assistant may serve less than the full day (N.C. Gen. Stat. §163A-823).
  • North Dakota: Appointing part-time election inspectors, judges and poll clerks is permitted if there is sufficient coverage at each polling place to satisfy staffing requirements (N.D. Cent. Code § 16.1-05-01).
  • Pennsylvania: Clerks and machine operators can work for half the day and get paid half as much (P.L. 1333-320-412.2(b)).
  • Rhode Island: Election supervisors can work a half day at half pay (R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-11-13).
  • Texas: Election clerks may work different lengths of times and different hours (Tex. Elec. Code § 32.072).
  • Virginia: All workers, except for the chief officer and assistant chief officer, may work a portion of Election Day (Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-115.1).
  • Wisconsin: The governing election body may select two or more sets of officials to work at different times on Election Day at different established working hours at the same polling place (Wis. Stat. § 7.30(1)(a)).

What Are State Poll Worker Training Requirements?

In 47 states, laws explicitly require training for poll workers. Some states require that only some poll workers at a polling place are trained, such as just the supervisor or chief poll worker.

Three states and two territories do not require training for poll workers:

  • In Maine, the secretary of state shall encourage municipalities to provide training biennially to all election officials, but training is not required (21-A Me. Rev. Stat. §505(7-A)).
  • In New Hampshire, training is made available via a manual but is not required (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 652:22).
  • In Texas, training is not required but the secretary of state adopts standards of training for presiding or alternate election judges, develops materials for a standardized curriculum for that training, and distributes the materials as necessary. The training standards may include required attendance at appropriate training programs or the passage of an examination at the end of a training program (Tex. Elec. Code § 32.111).
  • In Puerto Rico, polling place officials are trained by the local election commission, but it is not required (Laws of Puerto Rico Ann. § 4044).
  • In the Virgin Islands, boards of election train election officers and assistance “whenever deemed advisable” (18 Virgin Island Code § 47(6)).

Thirty-five states, three territories and the District of Columbia require all poll workers to undergo a training before serving:

  • Alaska, American Samoa*, Arizona*, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut*, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia*, Guam, Hawaii*, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mariana Islands, Maryland*, Michigan*, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada*, New Jersey*, New Mexico*, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia*, Wisconsin*, Wyoming

Five states don’t require all poll workers to be trained, but do require the chief poll worker to be trained or a certain number of poll workers at each site to be trained:

  • Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi*, South Carolina

Three states require training for poll workers if voting machines or tabulators are used at the polling place:

  • Alabama*, Idaho*, Pennsylvania

Three states don’t have requirements for poll worker training in state law, but local jurisdictions may provide training:

  • Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah

*Has an exception for poll workers who are filling a last-minute vacancy at the polls.

How Much Do Poll Workers Get Paid?

Compensation for poll workers varies widely across the states. In most cases, the state sets the minimum wage or daily compensation for poll workers but local jurisdictions can (and often do) pay more.

Thirteen states have a minimum daily stipend of less than $100 per day:

  • Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas*, Kentucky, Louisiana**, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia

Five states and two territories have a minimum daily stipend of $100 or more per day:

  • Guam, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Virgin Islands

Eleven states require poll workers to be paid the state or federal minimum wage per hour:

  • Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming

Three states specify an hourly wage other than minimum wage:

  • Alaska, Missouri, North Dakota

In 18 states, one territory and the District of Columbia there is no minimum set in state law, and compensation is determined by local election officials:

  • American Samoa, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

*In Kansas, judges and clerks at polling places where voting machines are not used must be paid at least $3 per hour. Judges and clerks at polling places where voting machines are used should be paid no less than $40 per day. The supervising judge shall receive no less than $2 and be paid mileage for travel. All workers can submit written consent to volunteer their time and receive no compensation. The exact compensation amount for all workers is determined by the board of county commissioners (Kan. Stat. Ann. § 25-2811).

**In Louisiana, the commissioner-in-charge gets paid $250. A commissioner-in-charge who serves at more than one precinct gets paid $300. Other commissioners receive $100 or $200 depending on their certification. Uncertified commissioners receive $35 (La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18:426.1).

Are Poll Workers Allowed to Serve as Unpaid Volunteers?

In some states, poll workers can opt-out of their lawful compensation and spend their time working as volunteers. Some states require that youth poll workers work as volunteers.

Poll workers may serve as volunteers in nine states:

  • Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia

Youth poll workers may serve as volunteers in an additional three states:

  • Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas

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