Training Woes in New York Underscore Need for Oversight in the Polling Place

A piece in yesterday’s New York Daily News recounted a sobering story from an observer of the training of election officials in New York City:

“There was an assistant trainer who arrived for an afternoon class wearing a letter carrier uniform. She also had her wheeled mail cart. While the lead trainer and other assistants taught the class, she used a table to sort her mail.
Then, around 5 p.m., she left and returned a little bit later in street clothes.”

And: “They wheeled in a woman to take the class in a walker wearing a nightgown. She needed to be in a hospital, not in a training class.”

And: “A woman who had taken the training gave answers to a friend who was taking the test. The trainer said she could stay. 

This is a distressing report to say the least. The adequate training of local poll workers, the very officials responsible for ensuring the election is run smoothly and with integrity at the polling place, is a prerequisite to a well-functioning electoral system. Poll workers are responsible for running the election from setting up the equipment, verifying the eligibility of voters, triaging voting equipment breakdowns, accurately reporting totals after the polls close, and following procedures to ensure the proper chain of custody of ballots and other election materials. If these folks are not adequately trained and able to perform their jobs competently, there is little reason to have confidence in our elections.

Certainly, we believe this is not the norm, either in New York City or nationwide. The vast majority of trainers and local poll workers are dedicated to their jobs and take pride in the civic duty of working an extraordinarily long day for little money. However, as we have seen in many past elections, a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch. In a close election, one dysfunctional polling place can cast into doubt the results of the entire election.

This all underscores two important points. One, it is essential that candidates and political parties be given reasonable access to observe the election from within the polling place. Observers and monitors can ensure that the election is run transparently, competently, and without fraud and that both sides can accept the results regardless of who wins. Observers provide added legitimacy to a process that is complex and, unfortunately, has a long history of fraud that leads many voters to view our election process cynically. For our part, RNLA works tirelessly to ensure Republican attorneys and volunteers are trained and given the opportunity to volunteer to assist in these election integrity observation efforts. We will continue these efforts so long as there is the risk for fraud and election official incompetence.

Second, is the importance that election officials place a higher priority on its training efforts. Both the RNLA and the Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s reports recommended as much. You can find RNLA’s thoughts on the importance of improved training here