Facing Poll Worker Shortage, One State Offers Credit Hours to Lawyers Who Volunteer

Board of elections worker Valerie Tyree cleans an election booth after a person voted in the state's primary election at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland.

Board of elections worker Valerie Tyree cleans an election booth after a person voted in the state's primary election at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Cleveland. Associated Press

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The Ohio Supreme Court approved a rule change to grant four hours of continuing education credits to practicing attorneys who work a full shift at the polls on Election Day.

Ohio lawyers who volunteer as poll workers can earn credit hours for continuing education under a rule change enacted last week by the state’s high court.

“Ohio attorneys have a long record of public service,” Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a statement. “I can think of no greater opportunity for lawyers in Ohio to give back to our state than to get involved on Election Day and help fill the urgent need for poll workers.”

The program, a joint venture by the court and Ohio’s secretary of state, aims to recruit additional poll workers for November’s election in anticipation of a volunteer shortage, driven mostly by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. More than half of poll workers nationwide are elderly people, the age group most at risk for complications from Covid-19. Because of that, “fewer poll workers are expected to sign up or show up on Election Day,” according to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office

State officials are hoping that offering credit hours to practicing lawyers could help bolster the volunteer pool. Licensed attorneys in Ohio are required to earn 24 continuing legal education credits every two years, traditionally by completing various programs accredited by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Continuing Legal Education. 

The poll worker program would fulfill four of those credit hours, provided that volunteering attorneys complete the necessary training at their county board of elections and work the entire voting day, typically a 14-hour shift that begins at 5:30 a.m.

There are nearly 44,000 licensed attorneys in Ohio. The state typically utilizes about 35,000 poll workers.

“Safe and accessible in-person voting is essential, and that requires large numbers of dedicated poll workers who will deliver accurate, accessible, secure, elections for their fellow Ohioans,” LaRose said in a statement. “[Attorneys’] attention to detail and ability to quickly grasp the nuances of the responsibility make them ideal candidates to be on the front lines of our democratic process.”

The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, is part of a larger effort to ensure that Ohio’s precincts are adequately staffed for the November election, both for in-person and absentee voting. Earlier this month, LaRose directed county boards of election to begin the recruitment process by Aug. 1 by contacting every poll worker who either served in the past three years or indicated interest in working this November.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: The Battle for Local Control Is Now a Matter of Life and Death