Work the Polls
Big projected turnout means it’s all hands on deck for the general election
By Marisa Demarco
On Election Day, Bernalillo County usually needs 2,500 poll workers—a one-day, 14-hour job that could arguably be among the most important in the democratic process. This year, the county will need 3,000, minimum.
An average presidential election year sees about a 55 percent voter turnout, says County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. This year, based on the primary and caucus numbers, there will likely be an increase. "We may see as much as a 65 percent voter turnout. That would be really high comparatively, but I definitely think it's possible."
New Mexico is notorious for tallying ballots late, but Oliver, who took the clerk post in 2007 when Mary Herrera left to become secretary of state, says she's hoping to mitigate that with a few procedural changes. First, a new state law allows the County Clerk to begin counting absentee ballots five days in advance. Second, Oliver says her office has spent a lot of time working on procedures for dealing with provisional ballots. What really complicates New Mexico elections, she says, is that they're often really close. "They generally tend to come down to that couple of thousand provisional ballots."
We may see as much as a 65 percent voter turnout. That would be really high comparatively, but I definitely think it's possible.
County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver
The County Clerk's Office has a list of about 14,000 people who have expressed an interest in working the polls. Some checked the interest box when filling out their voter-registration forms. Others contacted the office or have worked an election in the past. "The problem is the people who actually respond when they're contacted about working the polls is significantly less," Oliver says.
In addition to getting a leg up on poll-worker recruitment, Oliver is trying to improve the training process. Poll workers will put in a long day Nov. 4, for which they'll be paid $100. They will also put in a three-hour day of training beforehand, for which they'll make $25. Training has been regionalized so it's no longer in one location. Class sizes are smaller and the facilities are nicer, Oliver says. Additionally, the County Clerk's Office is now putting out a supplement to the manual provided by the state.
"We still have some more work to do on making the training a little more specific and a little more step-by-step," she says. Examining the end-of-the-night process will be integral, too, she says, because that was where issues arose during the primary.
Poll workers are responsible for setting up voting equipment, putting up signs and making sure each polling location has all its supplies. They check in voters and ensure ballots are fed to the machine properly. After polls close, they also account for all the ballots and make sure everything adds up before bringing them in.
"I can't promise we'll have everything completely counted on election night," Oliver says. "What I can promise is that we're going to start the process sooner. We're going to be more efficient. We are going to do everything we can possibly do to get the vast majority of those results up and available to the public as soon as possible after the polls close on election night."
If you're interested in becoming a poll worker, call the County Clerk's Office at 468-1291 or go to www.bernco.gov/clerk and look for a link in the upper right-hand corner that says "How to Become a Poll Official."
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