Report: Even with strong protections, gaps in poll worker policy remain | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Despite attacks, Americans have more reasons to trust the process than to doubt it

By: - October 19, 2022 7:11 am

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Despite two years’ worth of attacks and a barrage of baseless conspiracy theories, Americans still have more reason to trust in their elections than to doubt them, according to a newly released report.

And key to that effort is the small army of poll workers, overwhelmingly volunteers, who help out on Election Day with tasks as small as helping to set up voting machines and checking in voters to such high-level work as assisting in the counting of ballots.

But with Election Day a little less than three weeks away, analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center say there still are gaps in poll worker policy that need to be closed in order to guard against any possible tampering.

“The risk of temporary election workers interfering with voting and counting in the name of rooting out fraud is real,” Rachel Orey, the associate director of the center’s Elections Project, said in a statement. “But so are the safeguards in place to ensure that temporary election workers remain trustworthy and accountable, as they have been for much of American history.”

The think-tank’s analysts found that:

  • “42 states and Washington D.C. require training for temporary election workers,”
  • “40 states and Washington D.C. require election workers to take an oath before beginning their duties in an election office,” and
  • “47 states strive for partisan balance in the makeup of temporary election workers, which helps ensure bipartisan involvement in all steps of the election process.”

In Pennsylvania, county governments have been hard at work for weeks recruiting poll workers, whose ranks were depleted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the investigative news website Spotlight PA reported last month.

“Election administration is a responsibility we take extremely seriously, and we firmly believe that counties have continued to meet and exceed that responsibility, even as we faced significant challenges over the past several years,” Ashley Lenker White, the government relations director for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, told the Senate State Government Committee last month.

In testimony prepared for deliveryLenker White told lawmakers the the county association “[applauded] the county election offices and the tens of thousands of volunteers for addressing these challenges in an extremely professional manner to deliver successful elections and maintain the security and integrity of the results.”

(Source: The Bipartisan Policy Center)
(Source: The Bipartisan Policy Center)

Because the process for recruiting poll workers varies from state to state (some are nominated by local party chieftains) the Bipartisan Policy Center’s analysts write that it’s critical to ensure that workers receive “sufficient training, detailed instruction, and continual vetting to perform each part of the election process.”

States that “lack specificity in their training, instruction, and recruitment of election workers risk hiring election workers who cannot perform their job properly, who lack the public’s trust, or who abuse the process for partisan gain,” analysts warned.

And when it comes to temporary election workers, that’s doubly true, according to the report.

“The mosaic of training policies across states is a security concern. Discrepancies in who mandates training, who conducts it, and the length of time between trainings and certification periods creates an elections environment in which election workers receive vastly different preparation ahead of the election depending on their state or jurisdiction,” the report’s authors wrote. “Consistent, standardized, professionalized trainings would improve the preparation of election workers, and strengthen election security.”

(Source: The Bipartisan Policy Center)
(Source: The Bipartisan Policy Center)

Of the 42 states that mandate training for election workers, 34 states and Washington D.C. require training for all temporary workers before they can go to work, according to the report. Eight states, meanwhile, only require certain workers to undergo training. In Indiana, for instance, only precinct election officers must go through training.

While temporary workers mainly do routine clerical work, “The challenge with these part-time positions is that the workers exercise their competencies only twice a year and, in many cases, biennially,” the report’s authors noted, adding that “most states mandate temporary election worker training at the state level but rely on counties or municipalities to conduct the training.”

Funding also varies from state to state. While some states pick up the tab for training, others shift the cost to local governments. Some states also pay election workers for the time they spend in training, which “incentivizes budget-strapped local jurisdictions to shorten trainings to cut costs,” the report’s authors wrote.

With the explosion of mail-in balloting, counties found themselves running “in essence, an entirely separate election,” CCAP’s Lenker White told the Senate State Government Committee last month.

“We have heard counties reporting that their elections-related costs have at least doubled over the past few years, as we needed additional supplies, saw printing costs go up, and watched staffing and overtime needs grow to address the significant workload increases,” she said, adding that “all of this fell squarely on county shoulders – and ultimately, our county property taxpayers – because we are solely responsible for election administration, yet have not received ongoing, sustainable support from the state to offset costs related to all of these new requirements.”

Analysts also found unclear dismissal policies for misconduct from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Those gaps “[cause] disparities in acceptable conduct and raises questions about when election workers should be dismissed for misconduct, what qualifies as misconduct, and who is permitted to dismiss an election worker,” the report’s authors wrote, adding that “unclear dismissal policies threaten election security: A dismissible offense in one jurisdiction may not be grounds for termination elsewhere.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.