The year I finished college, I made ends meet the way a lot of recent grads do, with a patchwork of paid internships, part-time jobs and temp work. But I also worked as an election judge — one of those helpful people who check for your name on the register of voters, hand you your ballot and give you that snazzy “I voted!” sticker.
Election judges (sometimes called poll workers) play an essential role in the democratic process, helping ensure elections are fair and efficient. But many areas can’t find enough qualified people to work the polls — in 2012, 44% of jurisdictions surveyed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission reported difficulty recruiting election judges. Those shortages contribute to long lines, voter frustration, miscounted ballots and other election day mishaps.
That’s bad news for democracy, but good news for you. Your local elections department is probably looking for workers for upcoming elections, and they’ll gladly pay you for your time. Rates vary, but it’s not unusual for poll workers to be paid $100 or more for a day’s work.
Here’s what you need to know to get started as an election judge.
What Does an Election Judge Do?
Election judges are responsible for running polling places on election day, making sure voting proceeds in a fair and orderly way.
Because every jurisdiction runs elections in its own way, election judge duties vary slightly from place to place. You might have to set up your polling station, sign in voters, hand out ballots, show people how to vote, register new voters and certify election results.
Who Can Serve as an Election Judge?
Typically, you only need to meet a few basic qualifications to serve as an election judge:
- Be eligible or registered to vote
- Be able to speak and understand English
- Complete a training session before election day
Additional qualifications might include having basic math skills, being able to handle stressful situations and being available to work long hours. 14- or 15-hour days are pretty typical — as a poll worker in Saint Paul, Minnesota, I reported, bleary-eyed, to my precinct at 6 a.m.
In some places, high school students who can’t yet vote can serve as paid election judges. Candidates for office and elected officials are usually prohibited from serving.
How Much do Poll Workers Get Paid?
A survey of poll worker pay in some of the country’s most populous jurisdictions by the Pew Charitable Trusts found pay rates ranging from $75 to $300 per day. But compensation varies a lot based on where you serve and your specific responsibilities:
- In Prince George’s County, Maryland, regular election judges earn $200 per day, while a chief judge, who takes on extra duties, earns $300 per day.
- In Minneapolis, election judges earn $11.20 an hour, or $168 for a full-day shift that runs from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- In Los Angeles, poll workers earn $80 a day.
Some states, but not all, have laws saying that your employer can’t penalize you if you take time off to serve as an election judge. In other areas, like California, municipal employees who miss work to serve an election judge will receive their regular pay plus the poll worker stipend.
How Do I Get Started?
Find out which government entity — often the registrar of voters, city clerk’s office or the secretary of state — is responsible for running elections in your area. You should see information about poll worker requirements, compensation, and how to apply on their website.
Keep in mind that elections happen throughout the year in different jurisdictions, and every election requires judges. While many jurisdictions will accept applications year-round, you’ll probably need to apply at least a few weeks in advance of the election you hope to work.
If your application is accepted, you’ll likely have to attend a training session (usually paid) before you serve. Then, you should be good to go!
What Else Do I Need to Know?
In order to ensure that elections are fair, poll workers need to be non-partisan — you aren’t allowed to encourage people to vote one way or another, and you must keep your political opinions to yourself.
Many jurisdictions also need election judges with special skills, like being able to assist deaf or blind voters. In areas with large non-English speaking populations, judges who can communicate with those voters are in high demand — Los Angeles is looking for people fluent in Farsi, Armenian, Russian, Korean and other languages.
Working as an election judge once or twice a year isn’t a path to riches, but you will put some cash in your pocket and help support democracy in the process — not a bad deal for a day’s work.
Your Turn: Would you ever consider working as an election judge?
Megan Elliott is a freelance writer based in San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @MeganinSanDiego.