Poll worker shortage looms ahead of Georgia election

Tuesday is Help America Vote Day
Poll workers assist early voters in May at the Tim D. Lee Senior Center in Marietta. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Poll workers assist early voters in May at the Tim D. Lee Senior Center in Marietta. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Poll workers, the essential employees needed to run elections, are in short supply in Georgia as early voting is set to begin in just over two months.

“Help wanted,” say election officials who are struggling to find thousands of personnel amid a tight labor market and a contentious political environment.

They’re pushing to hire more people before a worker deficiency turns into a bigger problem, though there’s still time to meet recruitment goals and avoid the risk of short-staffed polling places in Georgia’s midterm elections.

All the largest counties in metro Atlanta are trying to find new hires between now and Election Day. Tuesday is Help America Vote Day, an effort to reach potential poll workers through in-person events and social media ads.

Election officials in Georgia and across the United States are recruiting poll workers on Tuesday, designated by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission as Help America Vote Day.

Credit: U.S. Election Assistance Commission

icon to expand image

Credit: U.S. Election Assistance Commission

“This is a moving target,” said Keisha Smith, elections director for DeKalb County. “We’re looking to expand and to bring in new people until Election Day. I worry about everything ... but we’re on track to meet our numbers.”

Poll worker shortages at this point before a major election aren’t unusual, but they could turn into a bigger problem, as they did when health concerns about the coronavirus led many people to abandon plans to work the 2020 election.

After precinct closures and a scarcity of poll workers contributed to long lines in some areas during the 2020 primary, election officials hired and trained tens of thousands of workers before the presidential election.

“We’re recruiting them up to the last minute,” Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson said. “I don’t think we’ve ever gone into an election where we’ve met every goal for poll workers — even when it was patriotic to be a poll worker.”

The temporary job comes with relatively low pay and long hours, making it difficult to hire people in Georgia with its 2.9% unemployment rate.

Workers also faced threats from those who wrongly believed the 2020 election was stolen, such as Shaye Moss, a Fulton poll worker who told a congressional committee that she received hostile Facebook messages and went into hiding.

Some counties have increased poll worker compensation. Pay for election clerks starts at $15 per hour in DeKalb. Election Day pay begins at $175 in Fulton County, $165 in Gwinnett and $150 in Cobb County.

A total of 22,401 people served as poll workers on Election Day in Georgia in 2020, along with 5,073 workers during three weeks of early voting, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Nationwide, states reported there were over 775,000 poll workers during the 2020 general election.

The secretary of state’s office plans a social media push starting Tuesday to help recruit poll workers throughout Georgia, spokesman Mike Hassinger said.

Besides Election Day jobs, counties also need to meet a need for poll workers during early voting, which begins Oct. 17. All counties must provide at least 17 days of early voting, including two Saturdays, according to the state’s voting law passed last year.

“It is always difficult to staff for early voting,” Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said. “We are just starting our hiring, so it’s too early to say” how many vacancies must be filled.

Fulton set a hiring target of over 2,000 poll workers, while DeKalb is seeking 1,700. Jobs are available to help check in voters, keep lines moving, hand out stickers and manage poll locations.

In Fulton, worker recruitment events were planned for Tuesday in the county government building in downtown Atlanta and at North Point Mall in Alpharetta.

“The sooner they know there’s a need, the better so they can come in” and apply, Fulton spokeswoman Regina Waller said. “We’re going to continue to recruit until we get to the end of early voting to get to the number we need.”

Georgians interested in becoming poll workers can apply through their county election offices or submit their information online through the secretary of state’s Secure the Vote website.

How to become a poll worker

  • Apply online or in person to a county elections office
  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be willing to work from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day
  • Attend training
  • Read and write English
  • Have reliable transportation

Source: Fulton County