Clay County looks for poll workers ahead of election
With less than three months until the November elections, auditors statewide, and their staff, have begun the annual challenge of securing enough poll workers to operate Clay County's 12 precincts.
"There is always a concern before you actually have your team put together," Clay County Auditor Marge Pitts said. "Then, even when the team is put together, you have concerns like life getting in the way. Things change from the time when workers commit, so you need to be prepared with alternates. ... We do have to have a minimum of three precinct officials per location by law. We have always exceeded that because sometimes people only want to work half a day which increases the amount of people you need at each precinct."
While only three officials are required at each precinct, Clay County tries to have at least five workers available as a precaution. Workers must participate in a two- to three-hour training class in October and be available to work a full or half-day on election day, Nov. 6.
"We have machine operators, chairpersons and precinct officials who do all the other things that need to be done during the course of the day," Pitts said. "There are varying levels of responsibility, but we have to train them on all of these responsibilities so that there is always coverage. We want to make sure that they are, to some degree, familiar with with every piece of equipment that is in there."
Longtime Clay County election officials Bev Rutter and Eric Tigges stressed the importance of participation in the process and encouraged eligible members of the community to get involved.
"I have done it for more than 20 years," Rutter said. "They have such a hard time finding people and I enjoy the camaraderie with the township workers. I also enjoy seeing voters. They do pay us and give us mileage. We have very intensive training. If you can run a computer, you can do all the positions."
"This is a very important process," Tigges said. "This is the nuts and bolts of our democracy and being a part of that process is important. It is everyone's civic duty to be a part of the process."
Poll workers must be at least 18 years old, able to register to vote, a Clay County resident and cannot be a felon. During the primary and general elections, a balance between Republicans and Democrats is required of workers. The auditor's office also strives to achieve a gender balance among workers, though females "far out number" male workers in the county.
Poll workers tend to be retired because they have available time to fill the role. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission 2016 Election Administrating and Voting Survey, all 74 counties who responded said more than half of their poll workers were over 61. In Clay County, 84 percent in the 2016 General Election were above the age of 60.
With increased scrutiny on election security around the nation, the role of poll workers has become more complex. Advances in technology have made the process of becoming a poll worker less overwhelming according to Pitts.
"With the increased focus on security, be it physical or data security, we have to, and have, implemented more training specific to those needs," Pitts said. "The challenges as far as from a technology standpoint, we here in Clay County have discovered that our individuals that are willing to work have not been intimidated by the technology they are asked to use. Some of that is because the technology is demonstrated in such a way that they should not be intimidated.
She continued, "The technology has actually encouraged people. Workers can be assured that they are treating everyone the same way because they are following the steps in the technology."