World Events

How to be a poll worker for the 2020 L.A. election

If you want to do more than vote in the 2020 election, consider becoming a poll worker to participate in democracy and facilitate a free and fair election. Polling places in Los Angeles County are in particular need of tech-savvy people who can help voters navigate voting technology and bilingual people to meet the needs of a diverse electorate.

Traditionally, many poll workers have been retirees who don’t have to find childcare or take a day off work to do it — but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many older people may opt against it this year, said Robert Brandon, president and chief executive of the Fair Elections Center, a nonpartisan, Washington-based voting advocacy organization. If there aren’t enough people to work at polling locations, some of those locations may not be able to operate, he said.

“We saw this in the primaries: Many of those older poll workers were concerned about the pandemic, and they didn’t [work the polls] in the primary, and we saw it play out in the forced reduction of polling sites, more distance for people to travel,” Brandon said. “It really does mean people get disenfranchised when there aren’t in-person options for folks.”

Poll workers do things like set up the polling place, instruct voters on how to use the machines, verify names and addresses in the registers, hand out ballots, manage lines, help with curbside voting, direct traffic and answer questions. This year, poll workers will also be enforcing social distancing and offering hand sanitizer and masks.

There are two categories of poll worker jobs: poll clerks and poll inspectors. The poll inspector is kind of like the manager. In addition to the same duties as everyone else, they’re responsible for picking up the equipment prior to the election and dropping it off at the end of the day, as well as assigning jobs to the clerks.

Including training sessions and working on election day, poll clerks can earn a stipend of up to $140. Inspectors can earn up to $240. You’ll be paid via check four to six weeks after the election.

You’re eligible to be a poll worker as long as you’re a U.S. citizen 18 or older, a resident of California and a registered voter.

It’s a long day: Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., so poll clerks will be expected to arrive at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and stay until about an hour after the last person in line at 8 p.m. casts their vote. Inspectors will start earlier and end later.

It’s not too late to sign up to work the Nov. 3 election. “We’re always accepting applications for election workers,” Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the L.A. County registrar of voters, wrote in an email.

You can apply online to become a poll worker in L.A. County, or by phone by calling (800) 815-2666 and selecting Option 7. You can also download and print out a paper application and mail it to the address listed.

Outside L.A. County, you can find information on becoming a poll worker at WorkElections.com, a site run by the Fair Elections Center.

What it involves


If you are hired as a poll worker, you’ll have to do online and in-person training before election day.

Steve Alloway, who’s served as a poll inspector in multiple local elections, said the online training lasted about an hour and in-person training lasts about two hours. You’ll watch instructional videos of what you’re supposed to do, how to set up the equipment, and how to put the ballots through the scanner. You’ll also learn how to handle various situations, such as a person surrendering their mail-in ballot to vote in person, or someone who comes in to vote but whose name isn’t on your register.

The county will assign you to work at a polling location based on need. You and a friend can request to work at the same polling place, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be placed together.

As a poll inspector, Alloway said he typically picked up the equipment from the county a week and a half before the election and went to his assigned polling place the night before to start setting up the booths and tables. The day of the election, everyone arrives bright and early and gets the actual ballot boxes set up. The poll inspector is the one who formally declares “The polls are open!” out loud at 7 a.m.

The time usually goes by quickly. Chris Brito, who has served as a poll worker in every election since 1992, said presidential election days are always busy. He said as an inspector, he’ll usually have everyone rotate stations every hour or to avert boredom.

Everyone who’s in line when the polls close at 8 p.m. has the right to cast a ballot. After every vote is cast, you balance the books, making sure the number of ballots cast and dropped off all add up. The equipment gets broken down, and the inspector returns it to the county. The boxes of ballots get sent off for the votes to be tallied at an official location.