As longtime election workers age or grow tired of the long days, states are considering some unusual ways to alleviate poll-worker shortages. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner last week proposed drafting election workers from pools of registered voters. Working elections would be conscripted, like jury duty. But Brunner’s idea has been largely met with skepticism. Detractors are concerned that unwilling poll workers could cause more problems than they solve.
A Cincinnati Enquirer editorial suggested Ohio should look toward Colorado and Oregon for better ideas. The editorial said the vote center system pioneered by Larimer County and used in Denver, Douglas and other counties in November requires fewer poll workers. Vote centers were criticized in Denver after voters were forced to wait for hours when the county-wide electronic poll book failed. But others, including Larimer County Clerk Scott Doyle, said the vote center system was not to blame. Oregon uses an all-mail election system, and Ohio wouldn’t be the only state considering following its lead – Colorado election officials are also debating the merits of such a system.
The difficulty of finding, training and retaining poll workers is widespread across the country. New technology and 14-hour (and sometimes much longer) days make some older volunteers shy away. Others who might consider it can’t juggle such a long day around work and family commitments.
In 2001, a commission chaired by former presidents Carter and Ford recommended making Election Day a national holiday, thus making it easier for both poll workers and voters.
Others have proposed allowing high-schoolers to work elections citing their youth, energy, tech savvy and desire to miss a day of school. Election workers, though, are usually required to be registered voters, which excludes most high school students.