Even election workers are partisan — for balance

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By Lance Cohen
Capital News Service

LANSING — If you plan to work this year’s general election, be ready to share your political party affiliation with local officials.  

Applicants for poll workers, technically called election inspectors, must identify with one of the seven political parties: Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, U.S. Taxpayers, Green, Natural Law and Working Class. These parties are designated because they received at least 1 percent of the total votes cast for Secretary of State during the 2016 general election.

Independents can work the election, but they don’t count towards a state requirement that at least one Democrat and one Republican work as election inspectors and that elections officials strive to make their numbers equal, said Karen Brewster, Cheboygan County clerk and register of deeds.

According to state law, at least three election inspectors must be at every election site and the board of election commissioners must appoint at least one election inspector from each major political party.

“This system of creating an equitable precinct is another form of checks and balances,” said Cindy Dodge, member information liaison for the Michigan Townships Association. “Every now and then counties run into the issue of not being able to find enough volunteers from a political party but there haven’t been any problems as a result.”

Michigan’s election system is administered by 1,603 county and local election officials, including 83 county clerks, 280 city clerks and 1,240 township clerks.

Election inspectors are able to work at other polling places outside their district if a need exists, Dodge said.

“Sometimes people need assistance voting on election day and if this is the case, one election inspector from each major political party is responsible for giving them the help they need, Brewster said.

“For example, we’ve had cases where individuals are not able to get out of their cars and election inspectors from both sides have to go outside to help them fill out their ballot.”

Election inspectors are paid at a rate determined by each municipality. Some municipalities pay  workers as much as $200 for the day. More typically they pay closer to $150.

Despite the compensation, it’s hard to find people to work on election day, Dodge said.

“Finding election workers is often a challenge because they tend to have to be people that are retired because most people can’t afford to dedicate a whole day to this,” Dodge said. “Rural areas tend to have the most difficult time finding election inspectors because of their smaller populations.”

The Secretary of State doesn’t keep a database to track the political affiliation of election workers in each district, Dodge said.