Utah's county clerks are looking for a few good people to serve as poll workers on Election Day in November. What good timing, then, that professors at Kent State and Brigham Young universities just released a study that emphasizes how important those workers are to the process of voting, which the authors say "is central to the theories of democratic practice."
Researchers conducted exit polls in two Ohio counties on Election Day 2006. That election was the first in which new electronic voting machines were used there, similar to the transition Utah voters recently made. The researchers found that people tended to be most critical of poll workers if they had to wait a long time, if the polling place was hard to find or if they felt they had little privacy when casting a ballot.
They also found a correlation between voters' confidence in new electronic machines and their feelings about poll workers. A well-trained, confident poll worker usually resulted in a voter who felt confident that his or her ballot would count.
This probably doesn't come as news to county clerks in Utah, who spend a great deal of time recruiting and training poll workers. But it does bring a renewed focus to the importance of that process.
We suspect few voters bother to consider the enormous task of manning polling stations on Election Day. In Salt Lake County alone, about 3,000 poll workers are needed. Typically, many of these have been retired people with the necessary time to spend on the job. However, the new voting machines have scared some of them away.
Salt Lake County has a program that attempts to recruit businesses and service organizations to provide these workers. The presence of younger, tech-savvy poll workers undoubtedly would help boost voter confidence in the system.
The recent primary election in Utah had such a pitiful turnout that it offered few real challenges to poll workers. It did, however, provide evidence of the short-sighted nature of a June primary. County clerks had trouble finding poll workers because many people were on vacation. The same could be said for voters, themselves.
November will be much different. Utah's turnout could be as high as 80 percent of registered voters. All the more reason for able-minded people to step forward now and offer their services.