CHICAGO — Poll workers are in short supply in parts of Cook County this spring, and Cook County Clerk David Orr has put the word out to find and train workers before the April 4 consolidated election.
More than 140 school districts and 120 municipalities will take part in the election, selecting local leaders to serve as mayors or members of school boards, city councils, village boards, park district boards and more throughout suburban Cook County.
Orr said “[a]pplicants must complete the required training, set up the voting equipment the night before election day and serve from 5 a.m. until the results are transmitted and the equipment has been packed on election night.” Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The county needs election judges and equipment managers to help voters and make sure everything runs smoothly at polling places. The need is greatest in the northern and western suburbs, the clerk's office said.. Currently, there are only a limited number of openings in the southern suburbs.
“Right now our biggest need is for equipment managers, and we need them throughout the north and west suburbs," said Mark Mesle, the outreach coordinator for the Cook County Clerk's office. "We have 1,600 polling places, and we have to properly staff each and every one of them,"
Equipment managers earn $340 and election judges earn $190. Election managers receive additional training and higher pay because they have additional responsibilities.
Mesle said he promotes the idea of working at the polls for several reasons.
“You’re meeting your neighbors and interacting with them in a very positive way," Mesle said. "You’re getting paid. It’s also a great way to learn about politics and learn about the election process.”
Local elections offer more of a challenge in finding poll workers than presidential elections because not everyone knows about the local elections.
“It’s harder to recruit for these local elections," Mesle said. "Voter turnout is significantly higher in November. For these elections voter turnout is significantly lower. These elections aren’t on TV everyday.”
Those who want to work on April 4 need to get their applications in as soon as possible, Mesle said.
“We don’t have a hard and fast deadline for applicants," he said. "We’ll be recruiting over the next few weeks, but the sooner people apply, the better.”
Training depends on the position. Election judges take one online class and one hands-on class. Equipment managers take three hands-on classes.
Applicants come from a variety of different backgrounds, but most have an interest in government.
“Our poll workers are as diverse and varied as the voters themselves," Mesle said. "Anybody genuinely interested in serving democracy who is over 18 and a U.S. citizen is welcome to apply.”
Mesle said that poll workers vary in age.
“Because it’s a very long day on a weekday, we typically get more retirees working at the polls," Mesle said. "However, we also have strong college and high school programs. A lot of people take the day off work to serve on Election Day just because they understand how important it is.”
Although students typically apply to work on Election Day for the money, Mesle said they quickly realize how important their jobs are.
“When I recruit students they often sign up for the money, but once they do it, they understand how important it is and how important they are to the Election Day team in their precinct," Mesle said. "That’s often what really keeps them coming back. They feel committed to the voters and the people they’re working with, and they really do then understand the process.”