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Paulina Mysliwiec supervises the election judge department at the Chicago Board of Elections. For the past two months, she’s been reviewing applications for poll workers as the city prepares for the 2020 general election on Nov. 3.
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“Our number one priority is to make sure that we have polling places staffed with the appropriate number of poll workers needed,” Mysliwiec said.
As of Sept. 15, more than 6,500 people have applied since applications opened in June, according to Mysliwiec. But the Board of Elections needs to fill more than 13,000 paid election jobs for early voting — which lasts from Oct. 1 through Nov. 2 — and for Election Day.
The board hires various types of election judges to manage polling locations on the day of the election. For example, cell phone judges help call the board with any questions, key judges access equipment for polling stations, and returning supplies election judges return equipment to the receiving station. The board also hires election coordinators to assist the election judges. For more information about job requirements and how to apply, click here.
High school students ages 16 to 17 have until Sept. 25 to apply for Election Day poll worker positions, while adults have until Oct. 19. Both groups receive the same pay, despite different application deadlines. There’s currently no deadline to apply for early voter poll positions, according to CBOE officials.
Mysliwiec noted that applicants for election coordinator — the highest-paid position — are being waitlisted due to the high volume of applications. But there are still plenty of other ways for people to participate at the polls — and get paid while they’re at it.
For a closer look at poll worker jobs and what to expect this election season during the pandemic, read our Q&A with Mysliwiec below.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
What should a poll worker expect on Election Day?
Paulina Mysliwiec: Election judges and coordinators arrive at the polling place no later than 5 a.m. This is because you have that hour between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to set up the polling place and make sure it is ready for voters.
First, they are pulling out all of the equipment items — including the touch-screen voting machine, an e-poll book (tablet) to check in voters, and a ballot scanner — out of an election supply carrier [where voting equipment is stored], that we call the ESC. The poll worker then sets up all of their equipment and voting booths and takes out all the ballots that we have for that particular precinct.
There are three stations. In station one, you’re checking in voters on the e-poll book. Station two is [for] distribution of paper ballots. Station three is the ballot scanner, where individuals who are voting on paper are able to process their ballot.
For the remainder of the day, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., you are there to assist voters as they come into the polling place — checking them in, distributing ballots, and helping them in any way they need help.
The polls close at 7 p.m. The judges’ and coordinators’ responsibilities are to make sure that votes are tabulated for that particular precinct they are serving. They transmit the votes electronically, and then they pack everything back in the election supply carrier. And [then] they leave together as one team at the end of the night when everything has been completed.
How is the Chicago Board of Elections protecting poll workers from COVID-19?
Mysliwiec: Safety is definitely our top priority, especially this election. We are taking all the necessary precautions to make sure that our poll workers are safe on election day. Not only our poll workers but our voters as well.
We are definitely providing a lot of the personal protection equipment (PPE) items to every single precinct in the city. Those items are face masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer, and plexiglass shields between a voter walking into the polling place and a judge sitting at a table checking in those voters. Social-distancing signs will also be available and hung up at every polling place location.
How much are poll workers receiving this year and how does a poll worker receive payment?
Mysliwiec: All of our positions for election day are paid. For serving on election day, election judges receive a payment of $170. Once they take the online training, which will be offered for the November election, they will receive an additional $60, so $230 total.
Election coordinators who complete training and pass necessary tests will receive $450. Early voting election officials will receive $14 per hour, with a chance to work 40 hours a week and receive time and a half for overtime. We also have a cell phone judge, meaning if you have a cell phone, bring it with you on election day to contact the board with any questions or concerns. If you are selected by the board’s clerk to be a cell phone judge, we compensate you $25 for that.
We also have key judges. A key judge is one judge per precinct who picks up a key in an envelope the week prior to election day from the board. They take that key with them to the polling place to be able to open up the election supply carrier and that [pays] $25.
At the end of the night, we have what we call returning supplies election judges. One judge from each [polling place] takes all the necessary materials back to what we call a receiving station at the end of election day and they get compensated $25.
Election judges and coordinators receive pay four to six weeks after the election day.
What is CBOE doing to diversify poll workers to get voters out to the polls?
Mysliwiec: The U.S. Department of Justice requires us to assign election workers who speak specific languages in communities where there is a huge voter turnout of voters who speak a second language. We hire election workers who not only speak English, but they also speak Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Tagalog, and Polish.
We also generated a list of maybe 300-plus high schools that we reached out to. The high school student judges are great to have at the precinct. Those are our younger election workers, but every election worker that serves at a polling place is considered to be the same. Everyone is working as a team member.