Today is National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, and the Rays have marked the occasion by launching the Rays up the Vote website, with all kinds of information for voters. The team has also announced that its employees will have November 3 as a paid holiday, to encourage employees to vote or to sign up to work the polls.
Why has recruitment of poll workers become an important issue this year? Every election year, county supervisor of elections offices must recruit thousands of workers who help voters cast their ballots. Here in Florida, our counties all run several early voting sites, usually providing some two weeks of voting hours leading up to election day. They need workers to staff those sites for that entire period.
But the real test comes on election day. Each election precinct - usually the size of a neighborhood — is required to have its own polling site, staffed by the people who check you in, hand you the ballot, and help ensure your ballot gets scanned. How many people are we talking about? Hillsborough County has 390 precincts; Pinellas 298; each has at least half a dozen people working on election day.
If you’ve voted before, you’ve probably noticed that many of the poll workers you see are older; often these are folks who are retired and therefore available to take on this responsibility. But COVID-19, of course, puts our seniors at especially high risk; those over 65 are urged to avoid the sort of public contact that working the polls entails. So last Spring, we saw states like Wisconsin struggle to staff polling places for their primaries (Milwaukee was able to open just 5 polling stations; the city usually had 180).
To prevent that sort of problem in Florida this Fall, it is important that people who are at lower risk from COVID-19 step up. It was seeing those long lines in Wisconsin that prompted me to volunteer in Hillsborough County. I got to work the polls on August 18, Florida’s primary day, and found that the many measures taken to lesson COVID risks (masks, distancing, LOTS of hand sanitizer) helped me feel safe. I also found that the work was rewarding and that voters were friendly.
Poll workers need to be registered voters in the county where they wish to work. They must be willing to complete an online training that can take a few hours. They must be available to help set up polling places on Monday November 2, and to work a full day (approximately 6 am to 8pm) on election day. Workers are also needed for early voting dates, but work on November 3 is required if you volunteer.
If you are a poll worker, you are representing your county’s supervisor of elections; this is a completely nonpartisan role. Your job is to make sure that all eligible voters can cast their vote. I know some of us have opinions — very strong opinions — about various candidates on the 2020 ballot. That is great! But if you are a poll worker, you leave those opinions at the door. If remaining nonpartisan seems like it might be difficult, you can still play a vital role on election day helping the candidate of your choice get out the vote.
While we talk about volunteering to be a poll worker, in fact your supervisor of elections will pay you! Pay varies by county, usually in the range of $100-200 that includes time spent training, setting up, and staffing your polling place.
To explore further, you can follow this link from the Rays website. You can also google your county’s name with “poll worker” and find the recruitment site for your county.