Oklahoma lawmakers are doubling the daily pay of poll workers next year to help alleviate statewide shortages. (Photo by Janelle Stecklein/Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Angela DeBose often hears the same question each time she asks people if they’d be interested in working the polls on election day.
What does it pay?
“I often get a giggle when I say, but at the end of last year, when I told them that we were being considered for a raise, I got some raised eyebrows, and I got some names on our list with telephone numbers to give them a call when it happened,” said DeBose, 67, of Forest Park.
Oklahoma lawmakers are banking that doubling the daily pay of the people who spend hours running polling locations will help alleviate the ongoing statewide struggles to find residents willing to work elections.
Starting July 1, 2024, poll worker pay will increase from $110 to $225 per day for election inspectors and from $100 to $200 per day for judges and clerks.
The raise is “desperately, desperately needed,” DeBose said.
When she began working as a precinct worker in 2018, DeBose did not know she’d be paid. She signed up because she wanted a behind-the-scenes look at Oklahoma’s elections.
She said the compensation was “a nice little token, but you couldn’t actually call this pay” given the time it takes to do the job. Workers must also stay on site the entire time the polls are open.
She said it takes qualified and dedicated people to work elections. They have to be willing to arrive at 6 a.m., remain on site until the last ballot is pulled out of the ballot box, stored away and secured. As an inspector, she then drives over to the county election board headquarters and sits in a four-mile line to drop off the ballots.
“I think the raise is appropriate,” DeBose said. “I think it’s needed, and I think it would desperately be appreciated, but the main thing it’s going to do for us is it’s going to help us recruit.”
Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, said lawmakers frequently hear how hard it is to attract poll workers. He said it’s hard to find workers because they’re only needed a couple of days a year, and they work really long days.
“The pay was pretty modest,” Olsen said. “And the thought was, we’ll raise the pay and hopefully keep the better ones that we have and get more people to do it.”
Senate Bill 290, which he co-authored, passed unanimously. Local, state and federal elections can’t happen without poll workers, Olsen said.
In Oklahoma, poll workers verify voter identification, distribute ballots and ensure election integrity.
“Poll workers help make sure that voters can cast their ballot and make their voice heard in a safe environment,” said Lynn Staggs, president of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma. “They’re a vital component of safe and consistent voting.”
Doug Sanderson, Oklahoma County Election Board secretary, said pay raises are “always welcome.” He said poll workers last received a pay increase in 2020.
Oklahoma County’s Election Board runs elections for municipal, school district, state and federal races. Sanderson’s team needs to hire over 800 people to work the county’s largest elections. Oklahoma County has over 280 precincts. Each needs at least three workers.
“Everybody appreciates being paid more commensurate with their duties,” he said.
Poll workers spend around 16 hours working an election, Sanderson said. Oklahoma polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but workers spend a couple of hours beforehand getting ready. They have to arrive at the polls an hour earlier, and if anyone remains in line at closing, they have to stay until everyone waiting has voted.
“It’s a long day,” he said. “I think the money is appreciated. It certainly helps out, but frankly, most of them, I believe, are just doing it out of civic duty.”
Whenever Debbie Trammell would head the polls, she couldn’t help but notice the “Poll Workers Wanted” sign inside her precinct.
So when the 72-year-old Midwest City resident retired, she decided to sign up to help run elections in her local community. She’s been a poll worker since 2007.
She said the raises are a “wonderful thing.”
“For the time that we do, and the dedication we provide to work the elections, a little bit more money is nice,” Trammell said. “That means that they appreciate us.”
Editor’s note: This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works and the threats it faces. To learn more, visit usdemocracyday.org.
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