Poll workers (and election officials such as municipal clerks) are the glue that holds American democracy together. And our recent research with Maine poll workers suggests that serving as an election official reduces any fears about election integrity or intimidation at the polls, and bolsters confidence in the integrity of our democracy.

Poll workers are vital and underacknowledged. Without the thousands of poll workers across the country, democracy would literally break down. We generally only think about our polling places during presidential and congressional midterm elections. But at any given moment our local election officials are recruiting and training an army of poll workers for the next election, only to start all over again months later. This is no easy task.

In fact, a potential shortage of poll workers in Augusta recently led to a controversial proposal to consolidate the city’s four polling places into just one. The consequences of reducing access to polling locations is that voter participation decreases, especially amongst the most marginalized citizens. For example, a study examining the effects of California’s 2003 decision to decrease the number of polling locations found that turnout decreased by about 3 percentage points. Without the successful recruitment of poll workers, access to this most fundamental right to vote is at stake.

Recent election cycles in the United States have seen increased concerns about the integrity of our voting process, fueled by misinformation and disinformation. But we know that even bogus claims about elections can shape attitudes.

Recent surveys suggest the 2022 elections saw a rebound in Americans’ confidence in elections. But there are gaps–particularly among Republicans, as only 46% said they have confidence in American elections, a number virtually unmoved from 2020 (compared to 82% of Democrats or 58% of Independents).

In this fraught political context, we investigated the experiences of poll workers here in Maine. Our team surveyed workers in communities across Maine, both before and after their service at the polls. We wanted to know, in difficult times like this, who does this work? What compels them to do it? What is their experience at the polls? And how do they come away from the experience feeling about American elections and voting?


We found that this vital work is often done by older Mainers. Nearly half our sample was retired and our average respondent was nearly 59, despite sampling in college towns. This work is also extraordinarily gendered, with women much more likely to serve than men. Nearly 75% of our sample identified as female. The most common answer for why one does this work was a sense of obligation or civic duty. And direct, personal outreach by someone the poll worker already knew proved to be the most effective mode of recruitment.

We also found that Republicans and Democrats have different fears and anxieties around elections. Republicans expressed greater concern about fraud and the integrity of the outcome. For Democrats, concerns centered more on fears of violence or intimidation at the polls.

But regardless of their specific fears and anxieties, the process of serving as a poll worker reduced those fears in significant ways. Those who serve come away feeling even more confident in our electoral process and in its transparency and fairness regardless of political affiliation. And this confidence extends not just to elections in Maine, but belief in the country’s democracy as a whole.

Even though these roles are critical to the function of local and national government, and they improve faith in the process itself, our system makes it very difficult for the average American to serve in these vital roles. But there are many ways we can make it easier.

Our findings on recruitment suggest we all have a role to play in recruitment. Our municipal clerks are extraordinary, but it’s up to community members to stress the importance of this work.

Our workplaces and institutions of higher learning could recruit poll workers and afford them the flexibility to serve. We could give state workers a paid day off to serve in this capacity (as an unsuccessful piece of state legislation sponsored by Maine Senator Rick Bennett tried to do last session). Our federal government could channel more funds to local election officials to bolster their recruitment and training efforts.

Efforts such as this will not only shore up the “people power” necessary for our democracy to function. But our research suggests it will leave more of us feeling confident in and proud of the integrity of our democratic system. And you can start today by contacting your local clerk and inquiring about serving as a poll worker in an upcoming election.

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