Election officials are growing increasingly concerned about a new threat in November: that organisations attempting to sway the outcome of the election may try to appoint supporters as poll workers.
The frontline election workers perform a variety of tasks, such as checking voters in at polling places and assisting with mail-in ballot processing; in other words, they serve as the face of American elections to the majority of voters. Election officials are already concerned because of a few high-profile events involving poll workers that suggest a wider wave of turmoil may be approaching.
One hotspot in particular has been Michigan, where a far-right governor candidate who lost the GOP primary encouraged poll workers to turn off the machines if they thought something wasn’t right. A county GOP group in Michigan urged poll workers to disobey the prohibition on cell phones in polling booths and vote-counting facilities.
And just last week, the Kent County, Michigan clerk said that a witness reportedly witnessed a poll worker insert a USB drive into an electronic poll book during the August primary, leading to two felony charges. The electronic poll book is a list of registered voters that displays who has cast ballots. The Kent County Clerk’s office declined to comment further than the statement made by Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons last week in which she emphasised that the “event had no impact on the election” and that the use of that particular poll book will no longer be allowed in subsequent elections.
“It is quite alarming to observe this new element of election workers who are there to more strictly monitor things in the wake of 2020.
then they should just carry out their duties as election workers and promote democracy in their communities, according to Justin Roebuck, Ottawa County’s clerk and the head of the Michigan Council of Election Officials.
Roebuck also serves on the Task Force on Elections of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which is currently writing a study on the dangers posed by ill-intentioned poll workers.
Election officials are keen to point out that most poll workers around the nation are working elections for the right reasons.
The risks to the electoral process posed by a bad actor working as a poll worker — or even a small group of them — are probably much lower than those posed by someone who becomes a secretary of state or even a local county clerk, where there is a much greater potential to influence campaigns by altering voting procedures or by interfering with the certification of elections.
However, some local election authorities are still worried that poll workers can compromise the security of voting machines themselves, as happened in Kent County, or that they might obstruct procedures at polling places and centralised centres for ballot tally.
They might slow down the procedure on election day, which might lead to lines. The private ballot of the voter may be in jeopardy if they’re sneaking in phones and breaking their oath of office, according to Barb Byrum, the Ingham County, Michigan, clerk. Precinct employees acting in bad faith may purposefully turn away and disenfranchise voters, according to a report.
Poll watchers, another common sight at polling places and tabulation sites, are very different from poll workers. Election observers are present on behalf of political parties, campaigns, and community organisations. Although some jurisdictions still need them to go through a training process, their duty in the election is to watch and they normally do not engage with voters.
Government officials often work as poll workers, interacting with voters and handling ballots. Although some states want a partisan split in the workforce, they are often expected to refrain from any conduct that might be seen as political. Considering that their duty should be to report to qualified election personnel, current and former authorities voiced worry about a coordinated effort by partisan groups to recruit and force persons into those roles.
David Levine, a former election official who is currently an elections integrity fellow for the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, described what people had seen as a “robust, comprehensive effort” by those who spread false information and myths about elections in an attempt to sabotage upcoming elections in the United States. Infiltrating and manipulating the electoral process by gaining access to poll workers—who, quite simply, are the foundation of American democracy—is one of the most recent ways that these individuals are attempting to accomplish this sort of thing.
Recently, Levine wrote a paper on screening poll workers and responding to potential security breaches. He advised election officials to thoroughly screen new poll worker candidates and train them, as well as to strive to reduce the possibility of threats throughout the process by using experienced poll workers when possible and relying as much as possible on bipartisan teams.