Maricopa poll workers undergo de-escalation training following conspiracy theories about Arizona elections
Gage Skidmore.

Voter distrust in elections has spiked as conspiracy theories abound, but poll workers continue to show up and keep elections running in Maricopa County.

As many as 90% of positions during the August primary election were filled, said Scott Jarrett, the county’s elections director, and the majority have signaled they’d like to return for the upcoming midterms on Nov. 8.

The county operates elections with the help of more than 3,000 poll workers, the bulk of them at voting locations, and around 600 of whom staff the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, where they sort and count ballots. All of them must be registered voters in Maricopa County and undergo a minimum of 5 hours of training. Positions with supervisorial responsibilities train for over 20 hours.

A new component of the training, introduced after the 2020 elections, is a de-escalation curriculum to help poll workers stay safe and ensure that voters have a successful experience. It wasn’t developed in response to the spread of baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 elections, Jarrett said, but rather to streamline the voting process. It does, however, assuage the fears of some poll workers and is valuable in light of the increase in hostility against election workers.

While fortunately emergencies stemming from voter harassment of poll workers haven’t yet occurred in the county, Jarrett said that his department still deals with disinformation campaigns. The counting of ballots at MCTEC is live streamed online and some out-of-context video clips have been posted on blogs, falsely labeled as proof of nefarious actions. To debunk false election information, the county has developed a webpage with common questions entitled Just The Facts. Jarrett invites people who remain skeptical about the election process to get involved.

“There’s no better way if they have trust issues with the process than to come work for us and get familiar with the inner workings of elections,” he said.

The people who choose to spend long days directing voters or sorting through ballots are committed to roles that not many are jumping at the chance for, Jarrett said. Election Day for poll workers starts at 5:30 a.m. and lasts past the 7 p.m. voting deadline, after they’ve finished properly packing up and delivering ballots in tamper evident sealed boxes and canvas bags. Workers assigned to MCTEC are on deck as early as 5 weeks before Election Day, processing early ballots, which nearly 90% of Arizonans use. They don’t take home much compensation for it, either: pay starts at $12.80 an hour and goes up to $20 an hour.

“Every single one of them is dedicating their service to voters. They’re some of the most passionate and hardworking people,” Jarrett said.

The requirement to be registered to vote in Maricopa County means that all poll workers are local residents. Only high school students with permission from their schools are allowed to participate without being registered to vote, due to their age, but even they have to live in the area. Poll workers, in the end, are simply neighbors.

“There’s probably not a neighborhood in Maricopa County that doesn’t have someone who’s worked for us. Look at yourself, look at your family members. That’s who you’ll see that’s working at our voting locations,” Jarrett said.

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