By Mark E. Miller, Kalamazoo Township Clerk
If you vote in person at the polls, you will see the smiling faces of your precinct election workers. You may take them for granted. I don’t. I call them “Heroes of Democracy.”
It has become harder in recent years to recruit inspectors. Kalamazoo County needs an additional 250 poll workers for the 2020 elections. Some employers are offering days of service for employees to do this civic work. Read on, then ask yourself, “Is this something I could do?”
Officially called “election inspectors,” these people make our elections work. Inspectors are paid, varying by municipality but often around $150, for a long day’s work. That day starts at 6 am, with the precinct team of six or seven arriving at the polling place to set up the equipment, place required signs, start the software, and make sure everything is working properly to receive the first voters at 7 am sharp.
One inspector greets the voters and instructs them in filling out the application to vote, another checks voters in on the e-pollbook laptop software. Additional inspectors issue ballots to voters, direct them to voting stations, collect the applications to vote and ballot stubs, and direct them to the tabulator to deposit their voted ballots. If the tabulator detects a problem, an inspector will offer further help, including a replacement ballot if necessary.
This work is overseen by a precinct chair (sometimes co-chairs) who must not only know the routine processes, but also how to handle problems such as voters who may be in the wrong precinct or municipality, and what rules apply to challengers and campaigners. They handle technical glitches in the e-pollbook software and know when it’s time to call the clerk’s office for help.
There are busier and slower parts of the day, and chairs make different arrangements for lunch and dinner. The polls close at 8 pm, but the day is not done yet. Reports must be run on the e-pollbook and tabulator, results sent by modem to the County Clerk, and all the equipment put away and materials put into sealed boxes and envelopes to go to the County Clerk, Canvassers, and Local Clerk. Two workers are still not done; they must take everything back to the Receiving Board at the City or Township Hall.
We have a remarkable election system with literally thousands of regulations designed to protect access for all qualified voters and to protect the integrity of the vote. The election inspectors are the front line in all of that. Make sure to thank them the next time you vote. Democracy does not work without them.
Election inspector requirements
- You must be registered to vote in Michigan.
- You must not have been convicted of a felony or election crime.
- You must attend a 2-hour training class. Sessions are held to accommodate varying schedules.
- You should have reliable transportation to arrive at the polls by 6 am and leave after polls close.
- You should be physically able to help with light setup and teardown duties.
- If possible, you should be available to work at elections held on March 10, May 5, August 4, and November 3. However, it’s not a requirement to be available on each of those dates.
You can obtain an election inspector application form online at the Michigan Voter Information Center. Complete it and return it to your city or township clerk.