Election Infrastructure

Raft of New Laws Harm Poll Worker Recruitment

August 30, 2022

America is experiencing a nationwide poll worker shortage. Election officials have struggled to recruit poll workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasingly confrontational election environment (1). Philadelphia’s 2022 primary election saw staffing shortages at polling places across the city (2). One New Jersey county secured less than 70% of the poll workers that it needed to carry out its primary in June (3), and only half of Ohio counties had reached recruitment goals week before its July primary (4). It avoided polling place reductions and long lines only through an undesirable savior: lackluster turnout.

In this already-challenging environment, state legislatures have passed a raft of new laws making it more difficult to recruit and retain poll workers. To ensure a continuous supply of poll workers, state legislatures must halt and reverse this trend.

A few notable examples of anti-poll worker laws:

  • In 2020, some jurisdictions received grants to raise poll worker pay. In response, multiple states banned outside funding, but failed to ensure adequate public funding streams (5). As a result, poll worker pay generally remains low.
  • The same private funding bans have created confusion in some states over whether private companies can offer paid time off to employees who are serving as poll workers (6).
  • Pennsylvania withholds desperately-needed state funding from counties unless they agree to count ballots “without interruption” from start to finish—leading election officials to wonder when poll workers will sleep or eat (7).
  • Many states including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming enacted laws imposing fines and criminal penalties on election officials and poll workers for administrative errors (8).
  • Iowa launched a criminal investigation into an election official who tried to boost poll worker recruitment during COVID-19 by offering hazard pay (9).


(1)  For example, see POLITICO, Coronavirus creates election worker shortage ahead of November (July 31, 2020), available at https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/31/coronavirus-election-worker-shortage-389831.

(2)  BILLY PENN, On a sunny Election Day in Philly, worker shortage causes some stumbles as issues drive voters to the polls (May 17, 2022), available at https://billypenn.com/2022/05/17/philadelphia-primary-election-poll-worker-shortage/.

(3) POLITIFACT, Poll workers are short-staffed, under attack — and quietly defending democracy (July 6, 2022), available at https://www.politifact.com/article/2022/jul/06/poll-workers-are-short-staffed-under-attack-and-qu/(last accessed July 27, 2022).

(4) OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE, Poll Worker Tracker, available at https://pollworkertracker.ohiosos.gov/

(5) POLITIFACT, ‘Zuckerbucks’ for 2022 elections? Republicans say thumbs down (March 15, 2022), available at https://www.politifact.com/article/2022/mar/15/zuckerbucks-2022-elections-republicans-say-thumbs-/

(6) For example, see Pennsylvania’s law, which prohibits election officials from receiving certain donated services if a private actor picked up the tab. Act No. 88 § 1, 2022 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Pa. 2022). The implications and meanings of this law are not yet clear.

(7) SPOTLIGHT PA, Pa. lawmakers agreed to a big election funding deal – with strings attached (July 8, 2022), available at https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2022/07/pa-election-funding-private-donation-ban-budget-deal/

(8) See Criminal and Civil Enforcement Tracker, VOTING RIGHTS LAB, available at https://tracker.votingrightslab.org/issues/21ElctnCrms (last accessed July 25, 2022).

(9) IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH, Election Officials Face Criminal Charges, https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/2022/07/17/election-officials-risk-criminal-charges-under-31-new-gop-imposed-penalties