arrowSection 5.1 - Polling Place Rules

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Terri L. Enns

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Poll Worker Eligibility and Training

Successful elections depend on the services of a small army of temporary workers who staff the polling places on election day. 1  These poll workers, who in Ohio are officially titled election "judges" 2  but who also are frequently called "precinct election officials" or "precinct officers," 3  administer elections under the direction of the Secretary of State and county election boards. As the state's chief election officer, 4  the Secretary of State appoints each county's board of elections, consisting of four individuals entitled to vote, drawn equally from the two largest political parties, to serve "as the secretary's representatives" in that county. 5  In turn, on or before September 15 of each year, each board of elections then appoints, also in equal numbers from the two largest political parties, at least four election judges for each precinct, to administer elections under rules prescribed by statute and the Secretary of State. 6  On election day these precinct election officials perform such vital responsibilities as establishing voters' eligibility to vote, assisting disabled voters, and generally ensuring that election laws are followed at the polls.7

All precinct election officials must be entitled to vote and must reside in the county in which the precinct is located. 8  They also must never have been convicted of a felony or of any violation of election laws. 9  In addition, "[n]o person who is unable to read and write the English language readily, or who is a candidate for an office to be voted for by the voters of the precinct in which he is to serve shall serve as an election officer." 10  Precinct election officials are appointed to one-year terms. 11  Individuals appointed as precinct election officials receive from the local board of elections a certificate of appointment, "which may be revoked at any time by the board for good and sufficient reasons."12

In order to serve as an election judge, all precinct officers must complete a mandatory training program "in the rules, procedures, and law relating to elections" 13  within sixty days prior to the first election in which the judge is to participate. 14  Each county election board establishes its own training program, in conformance with the training program and materials prescribed by the Secretary of State. 15  Election judges who have previously completed the training program must re-complete the training program at least once every three years to remain eligible, or more frequently if deemed necessary by the Secretary of State. 16

In a typical county, the training program lasts approximately two hours, 17  although county election boards have some flexibility to adjust both the duration and the curriculum. 18  In all programs, attendees are trained to set-up, use, repair, and maintain the voting mechanisms. 19  In addition, precinct election officials also are trained to screen voters for eligibility, and to resolve common questions and challenges that might arise on election day. 20  As part of the training, each precinct official receives an indexed reference guide of Ohio election laws and procedures, which prescribes appropriate conduct for the resolution of typical election-day difficulties. 21 

One key component of the training programs for the upcoming November 2004 election will be to ensure that precinct election officials receive complete and accurate information about complying with provisions of The Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA"), the new federal law that, among other things, governs some aspects of voter registration and voter identification at the polls. 22  (In addition, HAVA provides funds for states to replace "punch card" voting mechanisms with alternative devices, and to train poll workers in the use of this new equipment, but these provisions will not be effective until after this fall’s elections). 23  Although the training programs for the November 2004 election are not yet finalized, Ohio intends to distribute between five and ten million dollars of HAVA funds to local counties for poll worker training, 24  and the Secretary of State is likely to require all precinct election officials to be retrained for this election because of the number of modifications and changes this year.

On the day of the election, precinct election officials are to arrive at the polling place 25  one-half hour before the scheduled opening of the polls. 26  After presenting their certificate of appointment to the presiding judge, 27  all precinct officials must subscribe to the following oath:

I do solemnly swear under the penalty of perjury that I will support the constitution of the United States of America and the constitution of the state of Ohio and its laws; that I have not been convicted of a felony or any violation of the election laws; that I will discharge to the best of my ability the duties of ___________ (judge or clerk) ___________ of election in and for precinct __________ in the ____________ (township) or (ward and city or village) ___________ in the county of __________, in the election to be held on the _____ day of _______, _____, as required by law and the rules and instructions of the board of elections of said county; and that I will endeavor to prevent fraud in such election, and will report immediately to said board any violations of the election laws which come to my attention, and will not disclose any information as to how any elector voted which is gained by me in the discharge of my official duties. 28

If an election judge fails to appear or refuses to subscribe to the oath, the presiding judge, with the concurrence of a majority of the precinct officials present, "shall appoint a qualified elector who is a member of the same political party" as the absent judge to fill the vacancy until the board of elections appoints a person to that position. 29 

Precinct election officials receive a small payment for their attendance at the training program. 30  In addition, precinct election officials receive up to $95 for their services on election day, 31  although each county's board of elections can fix the compensation for precinct election officials at any amount above minimum wage and below the $95 daily maximum. 32 

[Posted: August 2, 2004]

Notes

1. For instance, the Fayette County [Ohio] Board of Elections anticipates mobilizing 200 precinct election officials for the November 2004 election. See www.electionohio.com/fayette/pollworkers.htm (last visited July 1, 2004); see also http://www.co.franklin.oh.us/boe/content/election/precoff.html (last visited July 1, 2004) (explaining that the Franklin County Board hires about 4000 precinct election officials for its polling locations).

2. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.22(A) (Supp. 2004).

3. See id.; OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.27 (West 1995).

4 See OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.04 (West 1995).

5. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.06 (Supp. 2004).

6. See OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.22(A).

7. See id.; Franklin Co. Board of Elections, Precinct Officials, www.co.franklin.oh.us/boe/content/election/precoff.html(last visited July 1, 2004).

8. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.22(A). (Ohio law also provides that if not enough qualified electors are available, the board of elections may appoint persons "at least seventeen years of age" who are registered to vote. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.22(B).)

9. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.27(A).

10. Id. (However, OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.15 (West 1995) apparently permits "a candidate for county central committee who is not opposed by any other candidate in that election and precinct" to serve as a precinct election officer.)

11. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.22(A).

12. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.27(A).

13. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.27(B).

14. Id.

15. Id.

16. Id.

17. See Franklin Co. Board of Elections, Precinct Officials, http://www.co.franklin.oh.us/boe/content/election/precoff.html#training? (last visited July 1, 2004).

18. See Cuyahoga Co. Board of Elections, Pollworkers, http://www.cuyahoga.oh.us/BOE/pollworker/default.htm, (last visited July 1, 2004) (describing poll worker training as a 90 minute class prior to the election, and a 30 minute organizational meeting the night before the election).

19. See, e.g., Franklin Co. Board of Elections, Franklin County Board of Elections Welcomes Precinct Officials to Today's Training Class, pp. 17 - 21 (2003), accessible at www.co.franklin.oh.us/boe/content/election/classPres.ppt. (last visited July 1, 2004) (reproducing visual presentation used in training fall 2003 precinct election workers).

20. See, e.g., id. at pp. 23-40.

21. See, e.g., Franklin Co. Board of Elections, Quick Reference Guide: Step-by-Step Procedures to Resolve Problems, Franklin Co. (Nov. 4, 2003) (reference guide available through the Franklin Co. Board of Elections, containing information prescribed by Ohio election law and the Ohio Secretary of State for the effective administration of elections); see also OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.05(B),(C) (Supp. 2004) (describing Secretary's duty to prepare instructions for elections).

22. See 42 U.S.C. § 15483 (2002).

23. See 42 U.S.C. § 15302 (2002).

24. 69 F.R. 14879, 14890.

25. See OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.31 (Supp. 2004) ("The board of elections shall mail to each precinct election official notice of the date, hours, and place of holding each election in the official's respective precinct at which it desires the official to serve.").

26. Id.

27. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.22(A). The board of elections appoints a precinct judge who is a member of the dominant political party to be the "presiding judge" for that precinct. See id.

28. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.31.

29. Id.

30. See Cuyahoga Co. Board of Elections, Pollworkers, www.cuyahoga.oh.us/BOE/pollworker/default.htm, (last visited July 1, 2004) ($30 training payment); Fayette Co. Board of Elections, Poll Workers, www.electionohio.com/fayette/pollworkers.htm (last visited July 1, 2004) ($15 training payment); Franklin Co. Board of Elections, Be a Precinct Official, www.co.franklin.oh.us/boe/content/election/precoff.html#compensation (last visited July 1, 2004) ($15 training payment).

31. See Sub.H.B. 262, 125th Ohio Gen. Assembly (effective May 7, 2004) (amending Ohio Rev. Code § 3501.28(C) to establish $95 ceiling).

32. See OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 3501.14 (West 1995).