Thursday, October 15, 2009

Requirements for Pollworkers under D.C. Bill 18-345

Pollworkers are the frontline workers on Election Day for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE). To the voters, they are the face of the election while providing a much appreciated service to the citizens of the District of Columbia.

Bill 18-345, the “Omnibus Election Reform Amendment Act of 2009”, is amending the Election Code in two areas that relate to pollworkers. Among other things, I am addressing below only two of the amendments that I believe will most affect DCBOEE.

First, Bill 18-345 requires the DCBOEE to “provide a field on voter registration forms to allow an applicant to include his or her interest in working as a polling place worker during the next election”. If passed, this would be an excellent amendment to the law and an excellent recruitment tool that I have advocated for years. Other jurisdictions have been doing it and benefitting from it for a long time.

The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) conducted a best practices study on pollworkers and produced Successful Practices for Poll Worker Recruitment, Training, and Retention, July 2007, 2nd Edition at The study includes comprehensive information that election administrators need for success on the frontline on Election Day.

The EAC suggests using the voter registration forms for double duty service to include a check box to indicate a registrant’s interest in serving as a pollworker. According to the EAC report, a number of States and jurisdictions include such a check box on both voter registration and on change of address forms. Further, the check boxes on the forms let those who are registering to vote know that they are also welcome and needed to serve at the polls.

Second, if Bill 18-345 is passed by the City Council and becomes law, pollworkers will be required to “complete at least 4 hours of training”. This amendment needs to be considered based on the restrictions of time for our volunteer pollworkers who are paid a small stipend for a long day of community service Election Day.

At the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment's July 13, 2009, public hearing on Bill 18-345, Kenlee Ray, a Ward Two Precinct Captain, testified that the four hour training requirement for pollworkers should be removed from the bill.

“Today’s pollworkers need better-designed training and supplemental materials that reflect the ‘best practices’ one finds in high performing organizations, not longer training sessions,” Ray stated. “High performing organizations started to move away from long sessions in the mid-90’s and replaced them with short 45 to 60 minute sessions followed by more targeted training delivered in the form of quick tips and updates.”

“Many of my workers have demanding jobs, or are independent consultants, and can’t take the time away from work for long training sessions,” Ray further stated. “Faced with a 4-hour requirement, most of them will quit.”

As a Precinct Captain from 2004 through the three 2008 elections, she spoke eloquently at the public hearing from her experiences, “during this last election (Blogger’s note: November 4, 2008 Presidential General Election) a lot of young adults volunteered to work at the polls. Since the average age of an election worker in the US is 73, we need to keep the Nextgen engaged as pollworkers. They act and think in different ways. They respond to sound bites and they want training to be delivered through a variety of media including podcasts, wikis, and tweets.”

“High performing organizations deliver training to the individual’s desktop or other electronic devices, thus allowing the individual to fit the training sessions into his schedule and to his learning pace,” Ray said. “The belief that DC pollworkers must troop down to Judiciary Square to receive training is outmoded. ‘One Size Training’ does not work. Some workers quickly master new skills. However, several in the current pool of election workers have such a lack of education or basic work and life skills that they would have difficulty mastering the pollworker jobs even if they received weeks of training.”

As a Precinct Captain who supervises DCBOEE front line pollworkers in only one of the District’s 143 polling places, I find Ms. Ray’s comments to be invaluable. Unfortunately, the practical experiences of other 142 Precinct Captains were not heard at the public hearing, because she was the only one to testify.

I support Ray’s comments wholeheartedly. However, I wonder about the invaluable insights the other 142 Precinct Captains might have had to offer the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. I further wonder about why were they not there?

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