Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner proposed last week to make election duty similar to jury duty. “. . . Occasionally working the polls would be a mandatory part of a registered voter’s life.
It’s an intriguing idea worthy of debate.
As this article points out, nationally, the average age of a poll worker is 72. As a former poll worker myself, I can corroborate that it’s an older group of citizens. While the advancing age of workers isn’t a bad thing, it does limit how much technology can advance at the polling place.
Several years ago Nashville started using a limited number of PDAs loaded with the voter database to check for current registrations. The old way of checking the database was to call an (always busy) phone number and talk with an election official at the Metro Election Offices. During a busy election when there are dozens of what are called “fail safe” voters at each precinct, the phone delay results in the precinct captain being dedicated solely to this task instead of watching over the entire polling place.
When I asked an election official about making the PDAs more accessbile to each of the 172 precincts in the county so as to eliminate the need to call downtown to check the voter database, this official told me that there were a limited number of precinct captains who were comfortable enough with technology to use them. Apparently, too many of the poll workers think PDA means “public display of affection.”
“Drafting” poll workers also helps to restore some randomness to the election process. Tennessee law gives both parties the right to have an equal number of poll officials in each precinct. Here in heavily Democratic Davidson County, there are dozens of precincts, where, if there is a Republican living there, they wouldn’t admit it out loud. I suspect that heavily Republican counties and precincts face the opposite problem across the state. And third parties aren’t guaranteed representation at all. Election selection rules–or, if you prefer, a type of voir dire process–could create a balanced tribunal of election officials at each polling place.
I’m not saying that I’m fully on board with this proposal, but it does offer the hope of making the election process more transparent and fair. What do you think?