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Missouri Officials Hope to Attract Millennials for Poll Workers

Theresa Thompson

Poll workers, or “election judges” as they’re officially called, are those citizens who hand you your ballot and give instructions when you go to vote.

And they often come from an older demographic in Missouri. 

Shane Schoeller is the Greene County Clerk--so he’s on the hook for making sure there are enough qualified workers to run the polling places come Election Day.

Traditionally, it’s been easier to recruit people who are retired, he said.

“Often, what I find is that a person might want to volunteer here to be an election judge, but they’re limited by their work schedule, possibly family schedule, and of course even your school schedule,” Schoeller said.

But more Americans are delaying retirement until their 70s or even their 80s, according to the Pew Research Center. That means Schoeller and other County Clerks may need to find a way to attract a wider age demographic for the polls.

Dennis Von Allmen is Howell County Clerk in south-central Missouri.

“In 2016 the average age was little over 67 years. Our oldest poll worker that day was 93 years old, and our youngest one was 19 years old,” Von Allmen said.

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He said today’s younger family households typically have both parents working outside the home, making it hard for younger adults to step away for a full day.

“But as time goes on it will be a problem to get good people in the community that would be willing to serve to take a day out of their lives, and contribute to the process,” Von Allmen said.

Von Allmen said it was once considered a status symbol to be an election judge. It was an honor, carried out by the town’s “movers and shakers,” he said. 

“As time has gone on you have lost some of that,” Von Allmen said.  

And when Von Allmen talks about the job of election judge, he often uses the word “serve” instead of “work.”

“I think it is it is a community service.  Poll workers do get paid a nominal amount. You know years ago poll workers got paid a dollar or two a day. I’ve heard my grandfather talk about first time he served—I believe it was in 1920—he got a dollar,” Von Allmen said.

For election judges, it's a long day—they show up around 5:00 AM to get the supplies out and work until the last voter casts a ballot and votes are reconciled that evening.  

Back in Springfield, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller says serving at the polls is a civic duty that should be shared by both younger and older citizens.

“And so, one of the things that, you know, I think would be part of the solution is when we have employers who are able to recognize that this is an important public need, and that they would be willing to give their employees the time off to be able to do that without having to take vacation.  And being able to still be paid for that day that they’re serving their community. Kind of an encouragement of, you know, ‘Let’s be part in doing our part in terms of civic duty,’” Schoeller said.

Chambers of Commerce can encourage local businesses to do this, he said.

Marla Marantz has served as an election judge in Greene County. As a volunteer with Springfield Faith Voices and the NAACP, she says she’s eager to find ways to attract younger poll workers, too.

“I also heard something where the school districts could make sure they don’t schedule classes on those days, so we maximize use of public buildings and more neighborhood-based voting locations. And then teachers could serve as poll judges if they so desired, and there could be something worked out with the school districts on that,” Maranz said.

Missouri law outlines the criteria for election judges:  they must be at least 18, be able to read and write the English language, be registered Missouri voter, and be of good character. Election judges cannot be elected officials, nor can they be related to anyone on the ballot.

Training varies from county to county, but the deadline for signing up is about the same:  generally, four to six weeks before an election. Anyone interested in serving as an election judge can contact their County Clerk.

As News Director, Jennifer oversees news gathering and production for KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio; in her role as Content Coordinator, she makes sure all programs on KSMU, including those produced locally, nationally, and internationally, flow seamlessly over the air. She trains the student reporters and announcers and hosts the monthly program Engaging the Community. Follow her on Twitter @jennwritesmoore.