Pennsylvania Needs Poll Workers on Election Day. Here’s How You Can Help

Voting Machines-Pennsylvania

In this June 13, 2019, file photo, ExpressVote XL voting machines are displayed during a demonstration at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

By Talia Adell Stinson

September 18, 2020

Counties will pay you to work at the polls, and the state is offering continuing education credits for some licensed professionals.

It typically takes 40,000 to 45,000 poll workers to successfully run an election in Pennsylvania.

So far, the state Department of State has received only 35,000 applications from people who want to help work the polls on Election Day.

“Pennsylvania, along with many other states, faces a shortage of poll workers for the upcoming election,” said Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar in a news release this week. “As a former poll worker myself, I know how important it is to serve your community in this capacity, and I am tremendously grateful for the number of Pennsylvanians who have stepped up to volunteer to ensure the election runs smoothly on November 3.”

The coronavirus pandemic has many people who traditionally work at the polls on Election Day choosing to stay home on Nov. 3. As poll locations are typically in more confined spaces, poll workers who are elderly or immunocompromised (or live with someone who is elderly or immunocompromised) are concerned about their risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

State and county officials are actively encouraging younger residents in good health to consider signing up to work the polls in the 2020 general election to help mitigate a possible shortage. Recruitment efforts started in late summer and will continue into the early fall.

Poll worker shortages during the primaries made voting in person more challenging and stressful, especially with some poll locations consolidated due to concerns related to the pandemic.

Interested in learning more about working the polls in November? Here’s a quick reference guide to get you acclimated to the process:

Why Should You Consider Becoming a Poll Worker?

Poll workers are essential to a successful Election Day, moreso now than ever before. 

While many voters are expected to vote by mail in November, there will still be some who want to vote in person. A polling place can open only if it’s properly staffed.

What Do Poll Workers Do on Election Day?

Each polling place needs a Judge of Elections, a Majority Inspector, a Minority Inspector, and Clerks and Machine Inspectors (also known as Machine Operators).

The Judge of Elections manages the polling place.

The Majority Inspector and Minority Inspector work with the Judge of Elections to keep track of the number of voters, resolve any problems voters might have, and make sure all of the votes are delivered to the county elections office at the end of the day.

The Clerks and Machine Inspectors help voters check in, manage voting lines, and make sure voters know what to do in each step of the voting process. 

The Judge of Elections, Majority Inspector, and Minority Inspector are typically elected positions. If any of the positions were not filled in the 2017 municipal election, people will be appointed to fill the positions.

The Clerks and Machine Inspectors are appointed.

Poll workers work from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. or the last votes are recorded on Nov. 3. Some counties allow poll workers to work for only part of the day.

Poll workers might also be asked to attend a training session prior to Election Day.

What Do You Get for Being a Poll Worker?

All poll workers will be paid for their time on Election Day; the amount of money varies by county.

Some counties also pay poll workers to attend a training session prior to Election Day.

The state Department of State also is offering up to 2 hours of continuing education credits to certain licensed professionals who volunteer to work at the polls on Nov. 3. They include nursing home administrators, physical therapists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, speech language pathologists, and audiologists.

“Our commonwealth is home to hundreds of thousands of licensed professionals who serve their communities every day in various capacities,” Boockvar said. “By granting continuing education credits for poll worker service, we want to offer licensees the opportunity to be civically engaged while also fulfilling requirements toward their licensure.”

What is Required to Be a Poll Worker?

If you want to be a poll worker, you must be a registered voter in the county where you want to volunteer.

Many counties make exceptions for 17-year-old high school students, but ask that they meet other requirements. High school students who are interested in working at the polls should contact their county elections office for more information.

If you are 17 and you are selected to work at the polls, you will likely be selected to serve as a Machine Operator or a Clerk. 

What Might Prevent You from Being a Poll Worker?

If you are running for office and your name appears on the ballot, you may not be a poll worker.

If you are already an elected or appointed government official, or you work for the government, you may not be a poll worker. District judges, notaries public and members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are an exception to this rule.

How Do You Apply to Be a Poll Worker?

The first step to becoming a poll worker for the upcoming election is to complete the Poll Worker Interest Form. In this form, you will be asked to provide your basic contact information, confirm your understanding of the opportunity, and answer a few additional questions.

After you submit the form, your local election office should follow up with you directly. If you do not hear from your election office after a reasonable amount of time, you are welcome to follow up with them.

What Should You Do if You are Selected?

Follow any instructions your local elections office gives you, and attend any training session they ask you to attend.

Locate your polling place early.

Wear a mask to the polls and follow social distancing guidelines the best you can.

Who Do You Contact if You Have Questions?

If you have questions about becoming a poll worker, contact your local elections office.


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