Study: Poll workers can boost or kill voter trust

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Posted: 11:54 AM- It's not new technology or who the president is that builds rust in balloting. It's the people voters deal with at the polls.

When voters have a good encounter with poll workers, they are much more likely to have confidence that their ballots were correctly counted, according to a study by the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.

For most voters, the poll worker is the only official they meet face to face during the election.

"Interaction with poll workers has a consistent, big effect on what voters think about the election process," says study co-author Thad Hall, an assistant professor of political science at the U.

The results showed that if a voter had a "less than excellent" interaction with the poll worker, only 38 percent of them were very confident their vote was properly tabulated. However, if voters had an excellent poll worker, 74 percent were confident in the process.

To ensure voter confidence, the study says, election training becomes essential, even if it requires "significant resources."

"Voter confidence in the electoral process depends on it," the study states.

Utahns, generally, are lucky in that regard, Hall says. Many counties have mandatory training programs for poll workers.

Salt Lake County will invest about $95,000 for poll-worker training this election, says Jason Yocom, Salt Lake County deputy clerk. The county makes each of its nearly 4,000 poll workers take a three-hour training course, with an additional two-hour class for workers who handle the electronic voting machines or manage a polling station. The county keeps the classes small, with no more than 20 workers per session.

"Training is mandatory for every election so workers can get a refresher every time," says Rozan Mitchell, special-projects director for the Clerk's Office.

Experienced poll workers can do part of their training online, but they still must demonstrate their knowledge in person.

"Everyone comes in," Mitchell says. "I don't let anyone off the hook."

The Salt Lake County clerk also offers a practice week preceding the election to let poll workers rehearse setting up voting machines, using the official register and programming voting cards.

"It lets our poll workers be confident they know what they're doing before the election," Mitchell says.

The U.'s Hall says having confident poll workers often cuts down on potential mistakes or poorly managed stations.

"A poll worker knows when he or she has been trained well," Hall says. "They want voters to have a good experience."