Voters cast ballots earlier this year. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
President Trump created a furor during Tuesday’s presidential debate when he called on his supporters to be “poll watchers.” It was interpreted by many to mean he wants his supporters to go to polling stations to intimidate voters.
But election judges are a real thing and an important part of Minnesota’s long history of best-in-the-nation civic engagement, and some Minnesota jurisdictions still need some — particularly those who vote Republican or third-party.
That’s because Minnesota statute requires party balance among the estimated 30,000 election judges needed on Election Day. This means that no more than half of the election judges at a precinct can be made up of members of the state’s four major parties — Democratic Farmer-Labor, Republican Party, Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis or Legal Marijuana Now.
Party balance is written into the law despite the fact that election judges are not allowed to try to influence voters, Secretary of State Steve Simon said.
“It’s fear and mutual suspicion that I suspect has generated this requirement,” Simon said. “As long as you have representation, you have eyes. You have people who can make sure that everything’s being fairly administered.”
The cities of Minneapolis and Minnetonka, for example, are in need of applicants who are not DFL-affiliated. Minneapolis and several suburbs have had to turn down applicants because they have too many from one party and not enough from the others.
If administrators of a polling place need additional workers from particular affiliations, they have a few options: they can boost recruitment for those parties; reduce the total number of election judges at a location; or, they can get creative.
For example, poll worker trainees can be as young as 16. If you’re too young to vote, you’re too young to be affiliated with any particular party.
Simon recently sent out a memo to the four major parties asking them to help recruit poll worker applicants for specific jurisdictions. Generally, red areas are having greater difficulty finding blue election judges and blue areas have trouble finding red election judges.
Though local jurisdictions are in charge of poll station hiring, Simon also said that his office has been in contact with larger area employers, civic groups and service organizations for general statewide recruitment efforts.
County and city employees have also been encouraged to do the two-hour online training necessary to become an election judge, in case a jurisdiction needs any back-up poll workers.
Nick Harper, civic engagement director for Minnesota’s chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the pandemic has compounded the need for election judges, as retirees and older Minnesotans — those most at risk when it comes to COVID-19 — are usually the most devoted demographic for poll worker recruitment. .
“A lot of election judges are not able to be there in the polling places, because they’re older and want to reduce possible exposure to COVID-19,” he said. “That mean’s local election officials have to do a lot more recruitment. It’s tough in that sense. The good news though is that Minnesota has a really good civic engagement rate all around.”
Safety precautions are being taken in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Simon said. This year, poll workers will be given masks, hand sanitizer, wipes and in some jurisdictions even face shields.
Poll workers are not required to live in the jurisdiction of a polling station to work there. So, if a DFL-affiliated voter is turned down for a position in Minneapolis, they can try their luck at any number of statewide locations.
Pay for election judges range between $10 and $17 per hour, depending on location. State requirements for the job include the eligibility to vote in-state if you’re 18 or older, the ability to speak, read and write in English and having no spousal, roommate or familial relationship to any candidate.
Simon said he is working to encourage the Legislature to soften these restrictions — such as only requiring at least one poll worker from each major party — to make staffing polling stations easier.
To find more information about becoming an election judge, click here.
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