County needs more trained poll workers

Sep. 2—Election Board Secretary Julie Dermody hopes a 2024 pay hike for poll workers will drive civic participation within the younger generation, along with a few more Democrats, as preparations are already underway for the election cycle.

Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, was the House principal author of the bill that increased pay for election poll workers. This includes inspectors, whose pay will go from $110 to $225 each voting day worked, and judges and clerks, whose pay will be up to $200 from $100 each day worked.

The pay hike takes effect July 1, 2024.

"I need about 209 [poll workers] in my back pocket to pull off the election in 2024," Dermody said.

"A lot of people in today's world, who live from paycheck to paycheck, they can't afford to take a day off from work," Dermody said.

But she hopes, with the level of pay this will provide — in some cases surpassing what people would make elsewhere — more and younger people will be incentivized to work the polls.

This includes meeting the standard of having at least one Republican and one Democrat worker in each precinct. Some precinct polling sites can require three to four workers.

Dermody said right now, her poll worker pool is around a "60-40 split between Republican and Democrat, with a few independents."

She said this is driven by the fact that the county is majority Republican at this time.

"I need at least one Republican and one Democrat at each poll. That doesn't always happen because I don't have enough Democrats," Dermody said.

Dermody said she is always taking names and keeps a running list on her door. She said training classes will take place in March and April for elections in June, August and November 2024.

"People can call and get on the list, and we will let them know when the classes are scheduled. It is a three- to five-hour class," Dermody said.

A growing population also factors into the need for more poll workers.

"We see [county growth] every day as we go down the road and see all the houses being built," Dermody said.

Based on numbers provided by the local post office, as of July 1, population projections for Rogers County surpass 98,000. Dermody said of that number, "24.2% under age of 18 can be taken out" of the eligible voter pool, along with ineligible foreign born residents.

Still, Dermody said, the county has 83.4% of those eligible registered to vote.

Dermody also addressed the need for more workers.

"Right now, the average age of a poll worker is 75 years old," she said.

She said many of the nearly 200 still on the active list "stay out of devotion" to the community.

"Sometimes they stay because I beg," she said. "A lot [of current poll workers] are aging out. They have served their time, and if some younger people are coming up the ranks, they would be willing to step down."

Poll workers are required to be eligible voters who have completed training provided by the local Election Board. Poll workers staff the precincts in which voting is taking place on the official in-person election day and can be asked to participate in recounts and audits.

Precincts usually have three to four poll workers per site. They arrive an hour before the polls open to set up. This can involve moving tables, setting up chairs, voting cubicles, posting notices and placement of signs. The poll workers are also tasked with the secure setup of the voting machine at each location. They remain onsite throughout the day, documenting every voter's eligibility, handing out ballots and returning all precinct supplies, the secured voting machine and paper ballots to the Election Board the night of the election.

Poll workers are key to a secure election in Oklahoma. They ensure there is a clear chain of evidence for a secure election. Oklahoma uses paper ballots, which are counted by voting machines. The paper ballot provides a backup, which can be audited to ensure the accuracy of the voting machines.

A poll worker must be willing to commit to a minimum 14- to 16-hour work day on in-person election day.

Thinking ahead, Dermody reminded the public that March 31, 2024, is the deadline for changing party affiliations for the primaries. She said her office at 415 W. First St. in Claremore, south of the County Courthouse, will stay open until midnight that day. Voters can also make changes to their affiliation online.

The law says no voter may change a party affiliation between March 31 and Sept. 1 in 2024.

Voters should also be aware that Oklahoma has a closed primary system. Both Republican and Democratic parties make the decision prior to 2024, regardless of whether they allow other party registrants — such as Libertarians and independents — to vote in their primaries during the blackout period.

The Republicans have already voted not to allow other parties to vote in their primary.

"We do great in Rogers County for engaged electorate for national elections. If we could just get them to vote in local elections, that would be icing on the cake," Dermody said.