I. In Focus This Wee

District of Columbia offers performance bonus to poll workers
Bonus pay earned through election day performance and additional training

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On November 2, 2010, I earned $300 from the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE).



Just over half my hefty haul — $160 — was my base pay for serving as a precinct captain, the chief Election Day worker for poll sites in D.C. A couple weeks ago, I learned I had earned an additional $140 in performance pay.

Under a new program, D.C. handed out up to $140 in bonuses to precinct captains based on their performance on eight Election Day tasks. Accompanying the bonus was a report card detailing how we did on each task and whether we had earned the bonus: $10 or $20 per task. I was part of 30 percent of captains to earn ’em all (and so could proudly face Doug Chapin at work the next day).

 Performance Bonus Criteria

  • Open Optical Scan by 7:00 am
  • Open Touch Screen by 7:00 am
  • Meet Special Ballot Standards
  • Return of Election Results
  • Return of Ballots and Paper Trail
  • Other Election Day Supplies
  • Other Paperwork Return
  • Accurate Ballot Accounting Form

The bonus program was a response to a particularly troubled 2010 primary election in D.C.

The 2010 elections were a bit of an Elections perfect storm here in our nation’s capital — granted, it was a self-imposed perfect storm, the result of the “Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009.” D.C. introduced two new styles voting machines, a DRE and an optical scan machine. The city also introduced a new electronic pollbooks and offered election-day registration for the first time. And turnout was high due to the hotly contested mayoral race.

Both voters and poll workers had to navigate the primary on a full precinct’s worth of new equipment and procedures.

The primary could have gone smoother, and the DCBOEE took some hits.

“Training wasn’t good enough. Performance wasn’t good enough,” Alysoun McLaughlin, DCBOEE’s public affairs manager, admitted.

In performance reviews after the primary, McLaughlin said it became apparent that many of her captains were not taking full responsibility for their precincts. When voting machines were not opened on time, captains blamed the workers underneath them trained to operate the machines. When special ballots (D.C’s version of a provisional ballot that also includes EDR ballots) weren’t filled out properly, captains blamed their special ballot clerk.

The city needed a way to encourage captains to better manage the full Election Day operation. As McLaughlin put it, a way to tell them “This is your responsibility.”

Tying extra pay to performance was the DCBOEE’s stopgap solution. Not only could performance pay motivate poll workers, but D.C. could tie the bonus to additional training. To be eligible for the bonus, all captains, veteran and rookies alike, first had to attend an eight hour training session in which we received hands-on training on how to operate every new piece of equipment.

And according to DC’s After Action Report, released earlier this month, the performance pay had a “dramatic effect,” as critical Election Day procedures — such as opening the voting machines on time — saw marked improvements from the Primary.

But is the bonus really to thank?

Steve Mockabee, a political scientist and researcher at the University of Cincinnati who has studied poll worker issues, cautions linking the bonus directly to improvements in performance.  

“The challenge,” Mockabee stated, “is that other factors may be at work to explain the improvement. Most notably, [the captains] had extra training.”

Mockabee noted that his research showed that extra money actually ranked fairly low in a survey of the drivers that compel poll workers to complete additional training and return to work future elections. Civic duty and social interaction were cited far more than cold hard cash.

Though he questions whether it is even feasible to empirically study performance pay on poll workers, Mockabee said he would not discount the program. He applauds D.C. for making an effort to target in on specific indictors of performance. “The broader perspective is that any effort to enhance poll worker performance is a good thing,” he said.

Further dampening the shine of the bonus program is the cost. The DCBOEE spent more than $20,000 of its HAVA funds on the 2010 general election bonus program.

But all this is no rain on D.C.’s parade. “We’ll never know if the bonus was the catalyst for the improvement,” McLaughlin said. “But we aren’t second guessing it.”

McLaughlin said at least 15 captains called her office asking how they could improve or receive extra training in the areas in which they failed to attain the bonus. A moral victory, if not a tangible one.

“I think [the bonuses] makes sense,” McLaughlin said. “I’d actually like to spread it around and pay out smaller bonuses to the other positions as well.”

Whether or not the DCBOEE can offer those bonuses again though remains to be seen. The city is facing a $600 million budget deficit and the DCBOEE is being forced to hold one (possibly two) costly special election this year.

And me? McLaughlin knows she’s getting me back, whether I earn performance pay or not. But my bonus did buy about three beers in a Dupont bar, so that was nice.


II. Election News This Week

  • According to reports obtained by The Baltimore Sun, nearly one in four Marylanders who attempt to register to vote through the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration are unsuccessful. State Board of Elections records requested by The Sun show that 144,442 would-be voters started the registration process at an MVA office during the past four years, but for some reason, their names did not get on the voter rolls. According to the paper, a disproportionate number of would-be voters came from Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. An MVA spokesman blamed the bulk of the problem on the applicants, who he said often tell clerks that they want to register to vote, but then fail to follow through by signing and returning the necessary forms. Elections officials are not satisfied."It is just not a good system," said Mary Wagner, the state's director of voter registration. "There are human hands involved. I'm sure that between the applicant and clerks at the MVA, papers get lost." Last year a state Senate panel suggested that the MVA move to an electronic system of registering voters, but officials at the MVA said it would be too costly and could increase wait times at the MVA.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation this week that would more than double the amount of time a governor has to call a special election. According to published reports, Cuomo is seeking a law to conform with federal law and allow enough time for military ballots to be mailed and completed in special elections. The issue has come up in recent special elections, and was cited as the reason why former Gov. David Paterson last year didn’t call a special election in the 29th District. Under current law, special elections are held between 30 and 40 days from when the governor announces one. Under the proposed legislation, that time would increase to 70 and 80 days. Also, federal law requires boards of elections to send out military ballots within 45 days of a special election—something that can’t be done under current New York law.
  • In some cities, people cast ballots in libraries. In others they cast ballots in grocery stores. Where people cast their ballots in El Paso, Texas just got a bit more limited for the upcoming May election when the city council voted that mobile-voting sites can only be located in publicly-owned buildings. According to the El Paso Times, in the past, the city allowed such sites to be located in churches and private businesses, prompting concerns about special-interest voting. For the May election, 20 sites were scheduled to be visited. Of them, 12 are privately owned, raising concerns. Of the 12, seven are churches, four are hospitals and one is hair products maker Helen of Troy. Spending $3,000 a day to bring voting booths to such private places "runs afoul of the equity of the vote," Rep. Steve Ortega told the paper.
  • Update on Voter ID: Voter photo ID legislation continued to make its way through statehouses across the country this week. The Kansas House Elections and Local Government Committee amended a voter ID bill this week to clarify documents that voters could use to prove citizenship when registering to vote. It also sets a process for first-time voters to prove citizenship if they lack documents when they initially register. The Colorado House voted to support legislation that would require voters to show a photo ID to vote and would disallow voters from using utility bills, birth certificates or naturalization papers from proving their identity on Election Day. In Wisconsin, Republicans are using voter ID as a bargaining trip to try and get Democrats back into the statehouse. In Iowa, where people live became an issue in the photo ID debate when Linn County Auditor Joe Miller set out to prove that people who list motels or hotels as their address actually do live in said motels. Late last week, Democrats in New Mexico closed ranks and a House committee voted to table voter photo ID on a party-line vote. Although a voter ID bill was approved by the Mississippi Senate in January, another bill making its way through the House would expand early voting and require voters to show ID at the polls — albeit not photo ID. Senators in South Carolina approved a new version of voter photo ID on Wednesday.


IV. Opinions 

National: Voting Rights Act

Arizona: Voting Rights Act

California: Secretary of state; Online registration

Colorado: Voter ID, II

Connecticut: Absentee voting

Illinois: Chicago election

Maine: Voter ID

Maryland: Motor Voter

Minnesota: Voting rights

Missouri: Voter ID

Montana: Vote-by-mail

Nebraska: Voter ID

New Hampshire: College voting bill

New York: Ballot counting; Voting rights

North Carolina: Voter ID, II

Oklahoma: Election fraud

South Carolina: Voter ID, II

Tennessee: Voter ID, II; Rutherford County, II

Texas: Voter ID, II

West Virginia: Early voting

Wisconsin: Voter ID, II



V. Job Openings

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