Voters Needed. Poll Workers Even More So


poll worker sign


Have you ever been curious about the inner workings of a polling place? That’s where you go to vote for local state and national candidates, ballot issues and advisory questions. The process varies from state to state, but the basics are the same. All polling places are generally open at least 12 hours. Time differentials range from 6AM – 9PM in New York, to 7 AM-6PM in Hawaii. Most states go with 7 AM-7 PM

Voter participation in my state of South Carolina has thus far been embarrassingly low in spots. For our primary, about 15% of the electorate could be enticed to vote in my county. In the runoff, a mere 5.62% of eligible voters saw fit to turn out. Part of the problem was the fact that Democrats had only one runoff office to vote for, the state superintendent of education. Republicans also voted for an education superintendent as well as a lieutenant governor.


As critical as indifferent voter participation is in America, there is a problem of equal, if not greater, seriousness. It involves the people who make the whole process work. They’re usually called poll workers or poll managers. Their “boss” at the polling place is termed a ‘clerk’ in South Carolina. It usually takes a few years as a poll manager before one is elevated to clerk. I’m a clerk. That’s not a huge deal. A few more dollars and you have to know all the election rules or where to find them quickly. The buck ends at your badge.

Both poll managers and clerks are hard to come by in South Carolina and numerous other states. In our county the average age of those holding these positions is 72. Yes, 72. Now, most seniors I know in their seventies are still pretty sharp cookies. Mentally, there’s little they can’t handle at the polls. Physically, setting up rather heavy voting booths and terminals and moving some large tables and sign bases around could be another story. And, more than a few are dying off. My county could use twice as many poll managers than we have. Pay is $120.00 Youngsters, ages 16 and 17, can get the same pay as assistant poll managers, and yet, few sign up. Clerks make $180.00

Some poll workers come from the county chairman’s party list. Volunteers are welcome and the media is full of stories about how the county is again desperately short of workers. Once chosen, the poll worker will go through a thorough training class, lasting a couple of hours at least. They are also provided with a Poll Managers Handbook and there’s an extensive online training course.

Then, it’s off to work. In my state, at least, there is a setup day to get most things done on Monday that have little to do with the actual casting of the vote. You have to have a little bit of the designer in you to determine the best way to arrange the voting space so that people aren’t running into each other, snooping at voting screens and lining up in a genteel and practical manner. You also mount lots of signs at wheelchair level. Poll managers also take an oath to be straight shooters.

On voting day, everything somehow comes together and is ready to go. Before the doors open, however, a ‘zero’ tape must be printed to show that there were no votes already tallied in any terminal at the polling place. Two copies are printed and signed. One goes into a ‘communications pack’ that is subsequently sealed for the rest of the day. The other is prominently posted. A ballot box for the rare paper ballot is opened in front of a voter to show no votes have been cast as yet. At the end of the day, a results tape, a printout of the day’s voting results, reveals the voting contents of each terminal. Three poll workers sign two copies. One is taken with the pack to the election board to represent the final count from your particular polling place. The other identical printout is taped up, usually on the front door, for the curious to get an early read on the results in their precinct after the polls are closed. The clerk also finishes up the day’s paperwork.

When voting begins, duties are split into several categories and poll managers cycle every few hours. Depending on the size of the polling place, one, two or even more managers will sit at the receiving table for voters. In our county, we’re pretty much all computers at the table. We ask for the photo ID and an address. It’s not necessary to show the registration card, unless there’s a different address. If all is in order, the poll manager, using a laptop, goes to the voter site to see if name address and registration number check out. If they do, the voter is asked if the address is correct. If so, they are asked, “In which primary do you wish to vote today?” You’re not allowed to name either party. The voter then signs the poll book taking note of an oath that he or she is not a desperado. The page and line are noted in the computer. The manager adds his or her initials and locks the voter’s name into the computer.

A ‘D’ or an ‘R’ is written on a little paper square called locally a “ballot style.” The voter is ready to vote. The little piece of paper with the R or D is handed to the booth attendant and the actual voting process begins. The poll manager will have a cartridge called a “Personal Electron Ballot” (PEB). The PEB is inserted and brings up a screen that asks if this person wishes to vote Republican or Democrat. The proper prompt is touched. The next screen verifies the selection. After that the poll manager is prompted to remove the PEB and the voter is left alone to select his or her favorite candidates and/or issues. When finished, the manager offers an “I voted” sticker.

In addition to the basic voters, there are those individuals who come in with physical conditions that require further assistance. Blind voters for instance use an audio ADA system, while those unable to get into the polling place can vote in their cars with the curbside assistance of carrying a terminal to them and going through the same procedures as the regular voters. There are also provisional paper ballots for various ID and other problems.

When day is done, the poll workers pack everything up and the clerk earns his or her extra money by taking all the equipment back to the election board. The poll managers are free to go home after an average 13 to 14 hour day.

I guess what I really took away from this latest clerking experience was watching an indefatigable 78-year-old poll manager, working the full election day without a complaint or insisting on a long rest period. If this delightful lady can work full tilt for 14 hours, surely a voter can sacrifice a fraction of that time for our country.

One final plea; sign on as a poll manager.

4 Replies to “Voters Needed. Poll Workers Even More So”

  1. I think its a little More than just “frightening” YOU are a poll worker.

    South Carolina should be warned.

  2. Who, what office does one contact to become a poll worker. This is something we should get a little more involved in…..we really need to flood the voting process from top to bottom! The best volunteerism…..

  3. Hey LookingForward

    Thanks for wanting to become part of the process. Your county party or the county election board would be the best places to start.

    Also, if you know someone who already works the polls, they can provide some guidance.

    Again, I appreciate your willingness to participate. It’s a serious problem in most states.

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