For more election coverage — from the upcoming RNC to local races — subscribe to the Charlotte Agenda newsletter.
If you’re a regular voter (which you should be), then you’ve probably noticed that poll workers, the nice folks who help you vote, are often 60-something and up. Because of the pandemic, there are fewer poll workers available this year.
Background: During the coronavirus pandemic, older age groups who contract the virus are at highest risk for serious complications. This means interacting with hundreds of people on a presidential Election Day isn’t an option for many regular poll workers.
According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, the average poll worker is “around 70.” So, the board is encouraging young people, who are at much lower risk for Covid-19 complications, to step up and work the polls.
Mecklenburg County will use about 3,000 poll workers on Election Day. Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County’s director of elections, said about 75 to 80 percent of poll workers from last election are coming back, leaving about 750 openings. Plus, he needs back-ups, especially during a pandemic.
“It’s taking your involvement to the next step,” Dickerson says. “Not only do I give you my vote, but I give you my time. It’s very admirable.”
What does a poll worker do?: There are multiple poll worker positions with varying responsibilities, but all of them are meant to help people vote and make Election Day run smoothly. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Equipment Assistant: Help voters with technology, in particular the touch screen voting machines.
- Provisional/Transfer Assistant: It’s all in the name, this position handles provisional and transfer voters (generally those voters who are questioned about their voter eligibility). This role requires typing and customer service skills.
- Party Judge: These folks work closely with the chief judge and sign official documents. Each precinct has a Republican judge and a Democratic judge. These judges are appointed or recommended.
- Chief Judge: The highest position at each precinct. They oversee all Election Day activities and ensure returns get back to the Board of Elections office at the end of the day.
Each position is paid a (very) small amount for their service ranging from $100 t0 $200 for a 16-hour day. Each poll worker also gets $25 for attending mandatory training sessions before the election. Dickerson says state officials are working to increase pay this year as a form of hazard pay for poll workers.
Why it matters?: Poll workers are key to ensuring fair elections. Without enough poll workers, long lines form and ultimately fewer people may be able to vote. The ability to spend hours outside a polling place on Election Day is a luxury that many people don’t have.
Poll worker requirements: It doesn’t take much. Poll workers must be registered voters and residents of whichever county they’re working in. Certain positions require workers who can lift 45 pounds and stand for long periods of time. There are also special positions for students. Learn more about those here.
Be prepared to work from around 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day. Bring snacks and wear a comfortable outfit that’s free of any support for or reference to political parties or candidates.
Also, if you work outside of your assigned polling place on Election Day, make sure to vote early or by mail in ballot.
Sign up: Either complete the Democracy Hero’s interest form, or apply directly with Mecklenburg County. And if you’re an overachiever, you can also sign up to help with early voting from October 15 to October 31.
The application does ask poll workers to specify the political party they’re affiliated with but the answer won’t determine their eligibility.
“The sooner the better,” Dickerson says of potential poll workers signing up for duty.
Covid precautions: Mecklenburg County poll workers will be equipped with PPE. Poll workers will have either face shields or sneeze guards to protect themselves, in addition to face masks.
Dickerson says lines will look longer this year, but that’s because voters will be spread out six feet apart. Voters should come wearing masks as well.