At the risk of becoming Doug Chapin’s Mini Me, I’m prompted to pile on Doug’s post today about the controversy in Summit County, Ohio over whether a state senator can serve as an Election Day poll worker.
As a college professor who has now worked for 15 years to bridge the gap between academics and election officials, I can’t help but cheer on state Sen Frank LaRose, who has applied to be a poll worker, but is being opposed by half the Summit County elections board, on the theory that only “regular citizens” should be poll workers.
Leaving aside the odd spectacle of a county elections board turning down a perfectly good poll worker applicant, the perspective that only a select tribe of individuals — ordinary citizens or highly trained professionals — can acquire real hands-on experience helping to run a polling place only hurts the cause of better election administration in the long run. If we’ve learned anything from the constant attention over the past two decades to how elections are conducted, it’s that the world of election administration is often too insular.
My own personal experience has been focused on how this insularity oftentimes means that election administration is cut off from advances in the academic, non-profit, and business worlds. The Summit County case highlights the insularity of election administration from the legislators who fund elections and write the laws that govern them. How many times have I heard complaints from state and local election officials about county commissioners or state legislators making decisions that just make no sense, from the perspective of the trenches?
Poll workers are called on to make myriad decisions that affect the experience of voters, including whether they get to vote at all. What better way is there for a state legislator to understand how election laws actually get implemented than to have him go through poll worker training and then to spend the day implementing election law in a polling place?
Count me as another voice in favor of granting Sen. LaRose his request to live out next Election Day working a precinct.