(Photo: Timothy Rezendes via Creative Commons)
Jen Devor and Anton Moore reported a striking finding in their op-ed this week urging more Philadelphians to step up and become Election Day workers: nearly half of these positions are currently occupied. Just 51% of the seats are filled, and 49% are vacant.
Each division is supposed to have a five-member Board of Elections, including a judge of elections, a majority and minority inspector, a machine inspector, and a clerk. These are the people who sign you in at your polling place, work the machines, and troubleshoot issues on Election Day. The Judge and the Majority and Minority inspectors are elected positions at the division level, just like committee people, but there's generally a lot less interest in these positions and the vacancy rates are much higher.
The official vacancy rate makes the situation seem more alarming than it probably is since, as the authors say, it's possible to get appointed to the position through 'curbside election' on Election Day, and some poll workers just do it this way rather than get on the ballot.
For instance, in the 18th Ward in Fishtown where I live, zero people ran for any Board of Elections positions in 2017 throughout the entire ward. But when I go vote, there are still people working at the polling place, who got in via a curbside election.
There's a lot of interest on the 18th Ward committee in making sure all of our ward's polling places continue to be fully staffed with people who are reliable and well-trained in the voting process, so Election Day worker recruitment is going to be a big priority.
One of the tougher selling points for recruiting new poll workers is the brutally long day. More people would probably consider doing the job if they could do a half-day shift, but the 6 AM (or earlier) to 8 PM (or later) grind is a requirement of state election law.
The statute allows half-day shifts already for the machine operator or clerk, but doesn't say anything about the elected positions, the judge of elections and the majority and minority inspectors. Here is Section 2682.2 on half-day shifts:
(b) If a county board of elections authorizes that the duties of a clerk of elections or machine operator may be performed by two individuals who each perform such duties for one-half of an election day, such individuals shall each be compensated at one-half of the rate authorized for a single individual who performs the duties for the entire election day.
Would it require an act of the legislature to amend this to include judges of elections and the inspectors? Or could County boards of elections (in Philadelphia, the City Commissioners) establish a local policy allowing half-days, since that's not explicitly forbidden by the statute?
The other big issue is the pay. Judges of Election are paid $100 for working on Election Day; Majority Inspectors, Minority Inspectors, Clerks, and Machine Inspectors are paid $95; and Bilingual Interpreters are paid $75. All of the positions are paid $30 for attending a training if they also work on Election Day.
If people spend 14 hours working on Election Day, which they could easily do, $100 a day works out to less than minimum wage. While some people have paid time off from work, most of the people doing this job are either retired or working and can't afford to take an unpaid day. Given many of our local elected officials' political commitment to a $15 minimum wage, this would be a great place to start, as it would make it possible for more people to dedicate time to these very important jobs.
With half the seats going unfilled, it's time to step back and take a look at what's not working, and the City Commissioner primaries next year will be a perfect opportunity to discuss this and other lingering problems with Philadelphia election administration.
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