I am often asked what an ordinary citizen can do in the upcoming election to make sure we have a fair, secure process. My number one recommendation: Work the polls in your city or county as an election officer.
As John Fund and I outline in our book Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, America has a vanishing corps of Election Day poll workers. As older workers who were raised with a keen sense of civic duty retire or die, it becomes ever more difficult to convince younger generations to take on a job that involves 14-hour-plus days without a break and pays only between $65 and $150 for the whole day. The growing complexity of state and federal election laws has also made the job increasingly stressful.
But as an election official, you will have the ability to make sure that eligible voters are able to cast their ballots and that the laws governing the election process are followed. You can make sure fraud is not being committed by election officials in your precinct or by individuals who don’t want to comply with the federal and state rules and regulations governing the polling place.
We have one of the most decentralized election systems in the Western world, and federal elections are administered at the county (and township in some states) level across the United States. Almost every county has a local election board or clerk or probate judge responsible for administering elections. They are always desperate to find and hire precinct officers to work on Election Day, because they are almost always short of the number of people they need to run the polls.
If you are interested and have the time, check out the website of your town or the county where you live and find the election department’s page. There should be information there on how to apply to become a precinct worker. Under the laws of most states, you need to be a registered voter, and you will have to undergo training. Those training sessions are ongoing all over the country from now through Election Day, so you should sign up as soon as possible.
You should also be aware that most states have laws that require election administrators to try to distribute election workers who are members of different political parties as evenly as possible. So you may get asked whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, or a member of another political party when you apply.
If you can’t spend all day as an election official working in a polling place, but you have some time available on Election Day, then volunteer to be a poll watcher for a candidate or a political party. You have to be appointed by a candidate or local political party to be a poll watcher in most states. There are some great citizen organizations, such as True the Vote, that train poll watchers and engage in other activities intended to ensure the integrity of the election process.
Transparency is the key to fair elections, and having poll watchers who represent all of the candidates and political parties present in polling places is essential to deterring wrongful conduct as well as maintaining the confidence of the public in our democratic process.