America’s Most Important Workers on Election Day Aren’t Paid Like it

America’s Most Important Workers on Election Day Aren’t Paid Like it

02/11/2016 0 Di puntoacapo

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new-election-day-2016jpgAmerica’s Most Important Workers on Election Day Aren’t Paid Like it

Elec­tions cost mil­lions of dol­lars to orga­nize and run, but some of the most cru­cial work is per­formed by low-wage work­ers, specif­i­cal­ly poll work­ers.

Amer­i­can elec­tions are run local­ly, which means gov­ern­ment offi­cials need to recruit and pay peo­ple to work at vot­ing loca­tions. But the require­ments for the jobs, which include being avail­able and able to work for 12 hours or more on Elec­tion Day, can make it dif­fi­cult to find peo­ple will­ing to sign up.

“It is a predica­ment that plagues almost every juris­dic­tion in the coun­try and it grows worse every year,” begins a 2014 report by the fed­er­al Elec­tion Assis­tance Com­mis­sion.

The com­mis­sion found that more than half of all states had juris­dic­tions that report­ed it was either “some­what” or “very” dif­fi­cult to recruit poll work­ers for the 2012 elec­tion. Every one of Louisiana’s parish­es rat­ed it some­what dif­fi­cult that year, while more than half of Indiana’s elec­tion-day vot­ers live in coun­ties where it was at least some­what dif­fi­cult to find poll work­ers. In 2014, all 120 coun­ties in Ken­tucky report­ed that recruit­ing poll work­ers was very dif­fi­cult.

Here’s why it mat­ters: With­out enough poll work­ers, vot­ers can expe­ri­ence longer lines, polling places can open late, and there may not be work­ers avail­able to tack­le issues that vot­ers might encounter.

Long wait­ing times are one of the most vis­i­ble and sig­nif­i­cant issues that can occur on Elec­tion Day. And although they can have a num­ber of caus­es, a lack of poll work­ers is an impor­tant fac­tor, accord­ing to a study by the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice.

There are a few rea­sons why recruit­ing poll work­ers has got­ten hard­er. The increased par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in the work­force and new tech­nol­o­gy that old­er Amer­i­cans can find daunt­ing have played a role. Under the Vot­ing Rights Act, some polling places need to have poll work­ers with spe­cif­ic lan­guage skills. Then there’s the pay.

The amount of mon­ey that poll work­ers can earn varies, but typ­i­cal­ly is in the range of $150-$200 on Elec­tion Day (as in Mia­mi-Dade Coun­ty, Flori­da). Work­ers can earn addi­tion­al amounts for attend­ing train­ings and set­ting up a vot­ing loca­tion. Alame­da Coun­ty, in Cal­i­for­nia, offers high school stu­dents $130 for work­ing at the polls on Elec­tion Day.

Even when peo­ple sign up to be poll work­ers, they don’t always show up. “Many juris­dic­tions will have hired their full com­ple­ment of nec­es­sary work­ers only to see 10–15 per­cent can­cel in the last week and then there are the addi­tion­al ones who just don’t show up on Elec­tion Day,” said Tam­my Patrick, a for­mer fed­er­al com­pli­ance offi­cer for the Mari­co­pa Coun­ty Elec­tions Depart­ment in Ari­zona who also served on the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on Elec­tion Admin­is­tra­tion.

Many poll work­ers are decades out of high school, how­ev­er. Because retirees often have the time (and are among the most reli­able vot­ers), they com­prise a large seg­ment of poll work­ers in many places. Half of Oklahoma’s poll work­ers in 2014 were 71 years or old­er, accord­ing to the elec­tion commission’s sur­vey. In 2012, two-thirds of Wis­con­sin poll work­ers were at least 61 years old.

Dou­glas Coun­ty, Nebras­ka, which con­tains Oma­ha, has tak­en a very inter­est­ing approach. Some poll work­ers there are draft­ed from the list of reg­is­tered vot­ers, much like for jury duty, and once select­ed must work in four elec­tions. The only ways to avoid this are sup­ply­ing a vol­un­teer in your place or can­cel­ing your vot­er reg­is­tra­tion.

Derek Willis