Modernizing Elections: 4 Myths vs. Reality
Elections are the bedrock of democracy in the United States. One vitally important but often overlooked aspect of election management is staffing and personnel.
Elections are the bedrock of democracy in the United States. Casting a vote is perhaps the single most foundational right Americans have, and ensuring reliable and well-run elections is among the most important functions of government. But managing and running elections is an extremely complicated process.
One vitally important but often overlooked aspect of election management is staffing and personnel. Managing poll workers requires an inordinate amount of attention and resources, but many elections offices still handle this crucial function using spreadsheets and manual processes.
“If you look at a typical elections office, it really hasn’t changed in the last 15 years. But the election landscape around it really has,” says Ron Davis, the CEO of EasyVote Solutions, which provides election management solutions to state and local governments. “Elections can’t be successful without technology. It’s all about identifying the manual processes that could be automated to help election officials spend their valuable time in areas where they really need to make the most important decisions.”
As elections officials across the country push ahead with efforts to modernize their processes, it’s important to examine some key myths about poll worker management.
Myth #1: It’s easy to stay in touch with poll workers.
Recruiting, training and communicating with poll workers is the most difficult and time-consuming part of managing elections personnel. A single election in a single jurisdiction may require hundreds or thousands of poll workers – not just on Election Day but for several weeks of early voting, depending on local laws.
Management systems such as EasyVote’s enable officials to easily send out mass information to poll workers at the click of a button, based on their preferred method of communication, whether that’s text, email or a letter by mail.
Myth #2: Most poll workers come back year after year, so it’s easy to reuse staffing plans from previous elections.
The election landscape changes constantly. Even in a normal cycle, there’s constant churn among a jurisdiction’s pool of potential poll workers as individuals move away or are no longer available. As the 2020 election showed, disruptions and disasters make it infinitely more complicated to manage poll workers. Thanks to public health concerns and uncertainties throughout the divisive election season, many jurisdictions saw a significant drop in poll worker recruitment and availability. These changes are increasingly difficult to manage with manual spreadsheets.
With tools like the solution from EasyVote, election officials can easily survey poll workers about their availability for upcoming dates and specific polling spots, and send reminders about work assignments and upcoming training sessions.
Myth #3: Early voting and vote-by-mail makes it easier to staff polling places.
Thanks to policy changes in many states, more Americans are choosing to vote early or vote by mail, rather than wait in line to vote on Election Day. In 1996, 89.5 percent of total votes in the U.S. were cast in physical polling places on Election Day, according to data from the Pew Research Center; by 2018, that number had dropped to 59.6 percent.[i]
While these voting options offer greater convenience – and while they may ease congestion on Election Day – they can actually make it even more complicated to manage poll workers. Expanded early-voting periods mean additional days officials must ensure people are available and trained to work the polls.
All these changes make it even more important for elections officials to leverage technology to manage poll staffing functions.
Myth #4: Poll workers are all unpaid volunteers.
It’s true that most of the nation’s poll workers are volunteers, but numerous jurisdictions provide payment and expense reimbursements for individuals who staff polling locations. Prompt payment is an important part of retaining poll workers from one election to the next. “If you can get this out quickly, you’re going to keep them coming back,” says EasyVote Account and Product Manager Patrick Lee.
But relying on manual processes can delay poll worker payments by weeks or months. With management solutions such as those from EasyVote, says Patrick Lee, agencies can reduce the payment process from three to four weeks to under one week.
With the right software, state and local elections offices can easily modernize, automate and streamline poll worker management. Such tools provide a more predictable and consistent process across jurisdictions, and they help agencies meet evolving demands for how elections are run. Poll worker management technology provides an agile and scalable way for jurisdictions to respond quickly to disruptions and crises.