Diversity and Community Engagement

The University of Mississippi

UM Votes: Exploring the Role of Poll Workers

In this blog post, OCE Voting Ambassador Libby Foley delves into the role of poll workers in making elections work. Learn about what is involved in serving as a poll worker and what these volunteers do.


If free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, then poll workers are the pillars of that foundation. In recent elections, the job of poll workers have been especially vital to maintaining the integrity of elections. However, what poll workers actually do, how they are selected, and what the requirements of being a poll worker are still a mystery to most people. This blog post will help to demystify the job of a poll worker, and explain how important they are to our democracy.

Who Can Serve as a Poll Worker

Firstly, there is a certain set of requirements that one must meet in order to apply to be a poll worker. In Mississippi, those requirements are as follows:

  • Be registered to vote in Mississippi
  • Be entitled to compensation
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a resident of the county in which you are applying to be a poll worker

An important note is that students that are 16 or older, are enrolled in high school, and have a residency in the county or municipality, may apply to be a poll worker with a recommendation from their principal. 

Application Process

If one meets these qualifications, the next step in the process of becoming a poll worker is applying. To apply, one must fill out the “poll worker portal” on the Secretary of State of Mississippi’s website, or go to the following link:

https://www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-Voting/Pages/PollWorkerPortal.aspx

After applying, and once being accepted, the next step poll workers go through is required training. There are many different duties of poll workers, and many of them are very specific, minute details that must be followed, and extensive training is required to prepare poll workers. 

Once someone has successfully completed their training, they can then work as a poll worker on election days, as long as their training was completed within the 12 months prior to the election they are serving in. In Mississippi, the compensation for poll workers is usually $75 minimum on election days, and could be more depending on the poll workers specific duties.

What Poll Workers Do

Speaking of poll workers duties, now it is time to understand what poll workers actually do. Firstly, there are several different types of poll workers. The different types of poll workers that Mississippi employs are as follows: general poll managers, receiving and returning managers, initialing managers, alternate initialing managers, and bailiffs*. 

General poll workers – According to the Mississippi Poll Manager Guide, commissioned by the Mississippi Secretary of State, the role of the general poll managers is to:

  • safeguard all election materials;
  • ensure only qualified voters are voting;
  • ensure that voters are only voting once;
  • ensuring photo IDs are valid and match the individual;
  • ensuring votes are made in secret,
  • providing voter information and instructions to those in line;
  • assisting voters with questions;
  • completing post-election reporting requirements;
  • and processing absentee ballots.

Thus, there are numerous, very important, duties that poll managers have in general that protect the integrity of an election. 

Receiving and returning poll workers – The Receiving and Returning poll manager has duties that are slightly more specific. Their duties include:

  • obtaining the box(es) for their polling place that contain the ballots and other necessary materials;
  • keeping track of the number of ballots received from the circuit clerk prior to the election;
  • ensure that the ballot boxes are not tampered with;
  • opening the boxes and distributing materials on the morning of the election;
  • sealing the boxes and machines after the election;
  • returning unused ballots to the election headquarters;
  • and processing paper ballots. 

The initialing manager – The initialing manager, who can not be the same person as the receiving and returning poll manager, has the important responsibility of placing their initials in the proper area of each blank ballot, initialing in the receipt book after a voter signs their name, and then giving the initialed blank ballot to the voter. Obviously, these duties only pertain to paper ballots. The alternate initialing manager is responsible for these duties if the initialing manager is not present or not able to perform these duties.

Bailiff – The final poll manager that the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office highlights is the bailiff. This position requires appointment by a party executive committee, election commission, or by the other poll managers. Their duty is to open the polls, keep order in line, line up voters to wait while helping the general poll managers verify identifications, prevent campaigning within 150 feet of the precinct entrance, stand at the end of the line of voters at 7pm and announce the close of the polls while still allowing those already in line to vote, and finally, check credentials of poll watchers. Thus, the bailiff’s duties deal largely with maintaining a productive environment that is free of campaigning, coercion, or voter intimidation.

These different poll workers all play an important role in preventing election tampering, and without them our elections would be chaotic, controversial, and subject to large amounts of corruption. Without poll workers following these specific duties, there can be no election. Serving as a poll worker is among the most selfless and important civic duties one can undertake, and should any of the aforementioned duties interest you, apply to be a poll worker at the following link!

https://www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-Voting/Pages/PollWorkerPortal.aspx

*For DRE/OMR counties, Opening/Closing Poll Manager is also included in their list of poll worker positions. DRE/OMR are certain types of voting equipment, and the opening/closing manager is in charge of this equipment, for the counties that utilize it.

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