Opinion: We Need Better Trained Poll Workers

Susan McKinney Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, an East Flatbush polling site.
Susan McKinney Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, an East Flatbush polling site.

EAST FLATBUSH — Today there are numerous reports of broken scanners, but let’s address the issue of poorly trained poll site workers too.

Around 8:00 am this morning I walked into my polling site at the Susan McKinney in East Flatbush. While on line, poll workers instructed voters to “vote down the party line” pointing to the Democratic line.

Like a good citizen, I politely told the poll worker she should not be instructing voters to cast their ballot for a specific line, because essentially instructing people to vote down a party line is telling them they can’t cross party lines, right?

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“If you zigzag, the machine won’t take it,” is what I was met with.

Another poll worker who was scanning ballots ran to the rear to chime in. She also concluded voters aren’t allowed to cross party lines.

So, again like a good citizen, I took my 38-inch long ballot, filled in my choices, helped the few voters who were now looking to me for advice, and left.

But, like a great citizen and a journalist, I went back to speak to the site’s observer. Unfortunately, Diana C. Russell was also under the impression that voters can’t cross party lines. That’s until she called the “special hotline” some poll workers have access to for those “tough” questions. She recanted and pulled aside about four poll workers to advise them of the “new” rule.

She’s not alone. The process can be daunting. But the Board of Elections and local district leaders must make sure they’re properly training poll workers before the election.

I understand poll workers are paid about $200 to sit at a site and guide us through the process for 15 hours. Maybe the fix is more money. Maybe it’s just more training. Maybe it’s a complete overhaul of the process and allowing for early voting. I don’t know the answer but it needs to be fixed!

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  1. Nice article, and I agree. I voted this evening. I thought it was strange that poll workers were standing right beside the scanning machines and were easily able to see each person’s completed ballot. They said it was because they were having “trouble” with the machines. It did not give me a good feeling.

  2. Absolutely inexcusable for anyone to say that regardless of what they get paid. Better training? This is basic civics 101. Products of a pitiful education system run by those who would never ever cross party lines.

  3. Why couldn’t the board of Elections make an agreement with a university/college to offer students the opportunity to be poll workers. The students would not be paid but earn credit for a “civics” field experience.

  4. Hi! I was a poll worker in Williamsburg yesterday and witnessed a lot of these disturbing things and more. When I questioned it my superviser yelled at me and told something along the lines of “That’s the way it is.” I filed a complaint with the Board of Elections of Kings County office this morning and am heading to the main office in Manhattan right now. You can see the letter I wrote on my Instagram account @nicolepasquale . Feel free to contact me if you’d like to investigate this further.

  5. I snapped at a poll worker two years ago in a similar situation. She was trying to explain that sections for each office were laid out vertically but the way she was saying it made it sound like you had to vote the same party all the way. Maybe that is how this misinterpretation of the ballot that it appears many workers have got started.

  6. This behavior is not just wrong, it’s criminal! I cannot believe in this day and age that this type of meddling is going on. Is it poor tutorials or electioneering?

  7. To me there is a flaw in the way the ballots are designed in that the lines aound each section are not bolded. It would make them so much easier to interpret. Too common sense for the BOE I guess.

  8. I was also a poll worker in Brooklyn, at PS220 JHS in Sunset Park. I also heard other poll workers telling voters that they must only vote for one party straight down the entire ballot. I do not believe this was a partisan effort as this was said by both Republicans and Democrats who were working together. Nor do I believe this was intended as voter suppression. However this was an example of gross misinformation being disseminated. I literally heard one worker who had been doing this job for years tell a voter they needed to choose one party and must stay in that column straight down the entire ballot and that changing columns is not allowed. When I explained that this was incorrect they were both surprised and confused saying “this is new information to me”. The NY ballots already have a very confusing layout. I suspect this misinformation comes from the fact that the “changing columns” rule is somewhat correct when you are talking about a single race where you need to select a single candidate. Somehow the information became generalized to mean the entire ballot. It is of great concern that reports of this misinformation seem to be coming from a large number of people and locations and points to both long-time poll workers as well as their supervisors. As a first time worker I have to say that considering how complicated the election process is, it seems to be organized much more efficiently than I had anticipated and I was actually impressed with the class we took and the layout of the manual we followed. However there is still a great deal of room for ignorance among those who are working. This seems to be a specific viral piece of misinformation that I would hope can be immediately and successfully addressed if the election board is made to care about it enough.

    My other observation was that even though they had good intentions and a desire to be helpful, some workers were just very bad at communicating information clearly. In my opinion there should be a separate, bi-partisan team of workers at each poll site who are specially trained and whose only job is to help those voters who are especially confused by the voting process. The election district workers at each table should be able to answer simple questions, but if there is a voter who needs a full, detailed explanation of how to vote, there should be another person they can go to who can give them more detailed help, especially when lines are long.

    Please contact me if you’d like more information.


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