How hard is it to recruit poll workers?

California’s special election is just a week away (November 8th) and election officials here are struggling with a growing problem: recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified poll workers to staff precinct voting locations for the election. A very specific, and growing, problem in Southern California is recruiting bilingual (and even in some cases multilingual) poll workers. A story in this morning’s Los Angeles Times puts some numbers on this pressing problem. This is a subject that Thad has written about in two publication (2003 and 2004) on language minority voters, as well as something we have written about in “Why Everything That Can Go Wrong Often Does: An Analysis of Election Administration Problems.”

The story this morning states that in Los Angeles County, 11,200 poll workers will be needed in the upcoming special election, with 2,186 of them bilingual (in the six required languages, in addition to English). The needs in other Southern California counties are equally pressing, especially in Orange County where they have 4 required languages (in addition to English), and need 601 bilingual poll workers of the estimated 3,400 poll workers for the upcoming special election.

In Los Angeles County, the majority of these bilingual poll workers will be Spanish-speakers (at least 60%), but as Thad and I have found in recent poll site observation in Los Angeles County, there are many bilingual and multilingual poll workers in Chinatown (downtown), Koreatown, Little Tokyo and in the San Gabriel Valley. One of the important constraints on recruiting poll workers, including bilingual or multilingual ones, is that they are only reimbursed somewhere between $50 to $150 for their efforts; this makes it difficult to recruit poll workers, and as Thad and I have noted in “Why Everything That Can Go Wrong Often Does”, can make the control problem for election administrators especially severe.

As an aside, the article this morning also has links and contact information for how to become a poll worker in Southern California counties …