Friday, July 17, 2020

A Backup Plan for Your Plan: Recruiting Emergency Poll Workers

By Jake Spano

Greetings Colleagues!

My name is Jake Spano and I am the deputy secretary in Secretary of State Steve Simon’s office. I am also mayor of St. Louis Park. My role as mayor helps me connect local issues with my work at the state and get perspectives on the election issues facing cities. And as we all know we’ve got challenges in 2020!

Right now, we’re gearing up for a big election season — in the middle of a pandemic.

This poses two challenges:

First Challenge: While we know there are people who need to vote at their polling place, we also understand that reducing the number of in-person voters is critical to keep our communities healthy. We at the secretary of state's office are STRONGLY encouraging people to vote from home — using Minnesota’s absentee balloting system — to help prevent spread of COVID-19. Any eligible voter can visit and in a couple of minutes apply for an absentee ballot for both the primary and general election to be mailed to their homes.

Second Challenge: We must all recruit enough poll workers, i.e., election judges, to staff the approximately 3,000 polling locations in Minnesota. Director of Elections David Maeda (former Minnetonka city clerk), recently sent out a few strategies in his weekly email for recruiting the 30,000+ poll workers we’ll need.

Curveball Challenge: But what’s your plan if a week before the election your poll workers suddenly cancel due to COVID concerns? You need a group of volunteers in reserve, and a great resource is all around you: your colleagues who work in your city!

Many of those in public sector roles are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves for the community when called. Your colleagues know the exceptional service delivery your residents expect, and they can rise to that challenge.

St. Louis Park's approach

Many cities, especially in greater Minnesota, have already trained their city staff as poll workers so this idea will not be new to them. For those not familiar with this strategy, I wanted to share more about St. Louis Park’s work and provide ideas for how you can get your city staff to support your elections effort.

In May, St. Louis Park City Clerk Melissa Kennedy had the idea to train 25% of the city workforce to be emergency poll workers. So far, the response has been impressive.

Once Melissa has her final list of emergency poll workers complete, she’ll conduct online training to ensure emergency poll workers are aware not only of the regular duties like assisting with curbside voting and checking voters in, but also extra COVID-related tasks like disinfecting voting booths and managing the flow of people in and out of the polling place. As you know, there’s a lot more to do this year than in the past.

One of the questions we hear from city employees about being a poll worker is whether they will have to declare a party affiliation. It’s true that under state law, no more than half of the poll workers in a location can be from one party. That means the head elections official in the city or county needs to know a poll worker’s party affiliation in order to assign them to the correct polling location. However, they are the ONLY person who knows and they cannot share that information with anyone else.

A backup plan for your plan

We cannot know what challenges we will face in the months ahead, but time spent preparing now will help us succeed on Election Day in administering accurate, transparent, and trustworthy elections in our local communities and the state of Minnesota. In order to do that you must have a backup plan. That plan cannot be to make your regular poll workers risk their health or the health of others by coming in sick, or conversely, make them feel guilty for canceling.

Having a reserve group of election judges can put everyone more at ease.

David Maeda and I are ready to help you with your planning. Contact us with any questions or ideas that can help support your work and that of other election administrators in the state. We want to hear your great ideas too!

Email me at if you’ve got suggestions of your own or would like to get samples of emails you can send to staff, a sample COVID-19 Emergency Plan, and/or a sample COVID-19 Staff/Election Judge Recruitment Plan.

Have a great summer and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Jake Spano
Mayor of St. Louis Park / Deputy Secretary of State

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