Session 8: Poll Workers and Election Integrity

Friday, July 29 8:30 AM-10:10 AM

Chair: Dari Sylvester Tran, University of the Pacific

Paper #1: “Helping my fellow Americans to Vote” is “my civic duty:” Exploring Poll Worker Motivations in Recent U.S. Elections

Poll workers, or election workers, are an essential component to the delivery and success of elections. Poll workers may be responsible for setting up and testing voting equipment, greeting, checking, and/or verifying voters, distributing ballots, and answering questions from voters. In addition to Election Day, poll workers may be involved in preparing and counting mail ballots, canvassing the vote, vote count or tabulation, and signature verification. Across the U.S., local election officials (LEOs), particularly those in more populous jurisdictions, have expressed issues with recruiting and retaining poll workers to implement elections. Without sufficient numbers of poll workers, voters may experience additional burdens to casting their ballot including longer lines, reduced early voting periods, and polling site closures.

Poll workers have been considered stipended volunteers (Clark & James, 2021), temporary workers (Suttmann-Lea, 2020), street-level bureaucrats (Kimball & Kropf, 2006), “mediators between the voter and the ballot” (Hall et al., 2007, p. 653), and more. Limited research (Mac Donald & Glaser, 2007; McAuliffe, 2009; Cantú & Ley, 2017; Barsky, 2020; Clark & James, 2021) explores the motivations and experiences of election poll workers. Employing the theory of Public Service Motivation (PSM) (Perry & Wise, 1990) as an analytical framework, this project seeks to conceptualize who serves as an election poll worker and why. Using survey data collected in three American states, we consider whether and how poll workers respond to the rational, normative, and/or effective motivations explored in studies of public servant, nonprofit worker, and volunteer performance (Knoke & Wright-Isak, 1982; Perry & Wise, 1990; Perry, 1996).

  • Monica A. Bustinza, Florida International University
  • Amanda D. Clark, Florida International University
  • Christina S. Barsky, University of Montana
  • M. Blake Emidy, University of Montana

Paper #2: Poll Worker Mobilization and Recruitment: A Field Experiment to Increase Poll Worker Participation

While a plethora of research has considered the mobilization of individuals to cast a vote, little research has considered mobilization techniques of those who distribute and count the ballots cast by voters. Local election officials are more frequently reporting that finding an adequate number of poll workers is “very difficult.” The purpose of this project is to address the poll worker shortage problem in American elections by looking at the causal mechanisms to practically and theoretically recruit more poll worker volunteers. This project will use a random sample of registered voters in the Charleston County elections division voter rolls to conduct an experiment with three treatment groups to recruit poll workers: Safeguard the electoral process, Social Pressures, and Election Accessibility. We expect that voters who are contacted by the elections division are more likely to volunteer to be poll workers relative to a control group.

  • Joshua Hostetter, The Citadel

Paper #3: Improving Confidence, Competence, and Convenience: Online Poll Worker Training Overhaul

Scholarship demonstrates that elections officers have a substantial impact on public trust in elections (Hall et al. 2009; Burden and Milyo 2013). Sometimes referred to as the “street level bureaucrats” of democracy, poll workers are the human face of elections to the voting public, and although they may only work for up to a couple of days in a given year, the work they do has profound implications well beyond the end of their shift (Hall et al. 2009). Arguably, one of the most important ways that poll workers build confidence is through effective training; nevertheless, the training of poll workers is a daunting task given the patchwork of election laws that guide election day processes (Favreau and Hanks 2016) and diversity of skills, education, learning styles, and experience of the trainees. Election administrators must maximize the quality of training often in the context of limited resources and poll worker shortages (Burden and Milyo 2015; Tran 2019). This study explores the impact of a transition of poll worker training from in-person to asynchronous online learning modules with an optional practical lab. We analyze the extent to which an online transition improves poll worker training in terms of increasing confidence in elections, competence, and convenience.

  • Dari Sylvester Tran, University of the Pacific
  • Melissa Michelson, Menlo College

Paper #4: Was There a Secret Ballot in the 2020 Election?

Central to free and democratic elections is the secrecy of the ballot and voters’ belief and confidence that their ballot remains secret. There is non-trivial evidence that a substantial portion of the American electorate have substantial doubts about the secrecy of electoral institutions. Even voters who vote by mail in the privacy of their homes express doubts about the secrecy of their ballots and confidence that their ballots were counted as they intended.

Voting by mail is far more susceptible to lapses in voter secrecy and voter intimidation. Persons voting by mail are not immune to others observing their vote choices and from voter intimidation. Drawing on a national post-election 2020 survey, we examine the voting experiences of mail voters, specifically focusing on the secrecy and integrity of mail ballots.

  • Lonna Atkeson, Florida State University
  • Robert Stein, Rice University
  • Trey Hood, University of Georgia
  • Braeden McNulty, Florida State University
  • Colin Jones, Rice University
  • Mason Reece, Rice University
  • Eli Mckown-Dawson, Florida State University