More than 100 people have stepped forward to work the polls in Portland next month, responding after several city councilors pushed City Clerk Katherine Jones to make one last effort to recruit enough staff to avoid closing roughly half of the city’s polling locations.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday if the city’s problems are entirely solved, but the flood of applications appears to have come just in time.

Despite often being referred to as volunteers, poll workers are in fact city employees who are paid $12 per hour. In order to process tax paperwork before beginning work, Jones told the council on Monday that all workers had to be hired by Wednesday so they could be trained next week.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the city received more than 100 new applications by Tuesday afternoon. Jones said Tuesday she was too busy to be interviewed, but would provide an update Wednesday.

Like many communities, Portland is struggling  to staff the polls on July 14 because many regular poll workers are not willing to do the job in the midst of the pandemic. Many regular poll workers are retirees over 60 and are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Portland’s problems are especially acute because the city typically staffs 11 polling places, while the vast majority of Maine communities have just one.


Jones’ initial proposal to consolidate polling locations from 11 to three was met with concern, both by local leaders and city officials, who worried about long lines and crowds that could disenfranchise voters and put their health at risk. A compromise plan to consolidate to six polling locations also faced resistance.

After several councilors expressed concerns Monday that the city’s effort to recruit workers was not sufficient – the application was at the bottom of the city’s “Voter Registration/Elections” webpage – City Hall issued a news release calling for volunteers and asked local political organizations to leverage their email lists in the hopes of a last-minute surge. Although elected city officials are themselves banned from working the polls, they’re calling on their constituents to do so.

As of Monday night, Jones needed 126 more workers. That was seen as challenging enough, but city officials also said at least 84 of those people needed to be registered Republicans because of a state law that a community should have an equal number of clerks from each major political party.

According to state law regarding poll workers, voters may change their party registration prior to 15 days before the election, and there are no special provisions addressing poll workers switching parties. Poll workers can also reside outside of the municipality in which they serve as a clerk, as long as they live in the same county – meaning Republicans from Cumberland County can serve as clerks in Portland.

Both Jones and Portland Mayor Kate Snyder expressed concern that finding enough Republicans would be difficult in Portland.

Republicans are a small minority in the city, representing about 12 percent of all registered voters. According to the most recent data available from the Secretary of State’s website, Portland has 34,681 registered Democrats and just 6,883 registered Republicans. There are also 16,205 unenrolled voters.

“If somebody’s job is to spray surfaces and make sure they’re disinfected, it shouldn’t matter what your political affiliation is,” Snyder said. Given the chronic shortage of election clerks, Snyder urged state officials to revisit that requirement.

However, the law regarding election clerks states that a municipal clerk may appoint election clerks who are unenrolled or are registered with a minority party (such as the Green-Independent Party) to fill vacancies, regardless of any imbalance in workers from the major parties. And, as a last resort, the municipal clerk can hire poll workers regardless of political affiliation, the law says.

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