One of a frequent series of stories examining Maine’s voting system.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maine in mid-March, one of the biggest concerns for state and local election officials was how they would staff polling places this year.

 

Municipal poll workers – many of them elderly volunteers – are right in the cross hairs of the coronavirus and more susceptible to serious complications or death if they get sick. Many stepped away from their roles earlier this year to protect their own health and that of their families, leaving a shortage of available workers for the July primary. Officials put out a call for help and many have stepped forward.

Town and city clerks, the key voting officials in Maine, say they are now well-positioned to conduct in-person voting safely and efficiently on Election Day. Clerks in Maine’s three largest cities – Portland, Lewiston and Bangor – say they have the poll workers they need.

Clerks in smaller communities say they are also ready to go.

Here’s what you need to know about polling place workers in Maine:

What are the requirements to be a polling place worker?

Polling place workers, referred to as election clerks in state law, must be registered Maine voters and, in most cases, must live in the city or town where they intend to work.

Are there restrictions on who can work at polling places?

Yes. State law prohibits employees of political parties or those on candidates’ campaign staffs from serving as election clerks. Candidates and members of their immediate families are also prohibited from working in the electoral district where the candidate is seeking office.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. These rules do not apply in municipalities with fewer than 500 residents. Also, in some cases poll workers need not live in the municipality where they are working so long as they live in the same county.

In an executive order issued earlier this year to ensure an ample supply of poll workers, Gov. Janet Mills eased residence restrictions, allowing municipalities to recruit workers from an adjacent county when necessary.

How many election workers are required at each polling place?

This can vary depending on the size of a municipality, but state law requires a minimum of two poll workers and a warden or deputy warden per location. Lewiston, for example, will have 15 poll workers at each of the city’s four polling locations. Oxford Town Clerk Elizabeth Olsen says she will have 14 poll workers at the town’s single voting location, but they will likely work rotating two-hour shifts based on voter volume.

How much do these workers get paid?

That also varies. Olsen says Oxford offers poll workers a stipend, but most do not accept it and volunteer their time. Poll workers in Portland are paid $12 an hour, according to City Clerk Kathy Jones. In Lewiston, they are paid $75 a day – for a half-day shift – with some working early and opening the polls and others working late to help close the polls and tally results, City Clerk Kathy Montejo said.

What exactly do polling place workers do?

Poll workers have a variety of duties that include checking in voters, distributing ballots, monitoring tabulation machines or the ballot box and helping tally votes at the end of the night, according to a recruitment website for workers set up by the Maine Town and City Clerks Association and the Maine Municipal Association.

How does someone become a polling place worker?

Workers are appointed to two-year terms by municipal officers and the municipal clerk assigns them to polling locations and tasks.

Are there background checks or other requirements for poll workers?

Maine law largely leaves hiring and training requirements to individual municipalities, but each worker must take an oath before assuming official duties. The state recommends that any sworn official be given an oath spelled out in the Maine Constitution, although municipalities may use a slightly different version outlined in their charters. In general, workers swear to discharge their duties, and to uphold the state Constitution and state law.

Can poll workers be enrolled in a political party?

Yes. State law requires that each polling place have at least one poll worker from each of the state’s leading political parties. The law also requires that at least half the election clerks employed by a municipality belong to a major party. The law also requires a general balancing of workers between the parties. “The number of election clerks selected from one major party may not exceed the number of election clerks from another major party by more than one,” the law states. This requirement also applies to those counting ballots.

What happens if I have problem with an election clerk when I’m casting my ballot?

Report the issue to the polling place warden, deputy warden or your city or town clerk. Most problems at polling places are resolved by local officials, but federal law also requires the state to have an administrative complaint procedure in place to resolve any alleged violations of the Help America Vote Act.

To make an inquiry or file a complaint at the state level, contact the Secretary of State’s Office by emailing: [email protected], or calling: 207-624-7650.

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