Cook County, Illinois develops metrics to evaluate poll workers

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With Chicago as its county seat, Cook County is the most populous county in the state of Illinois, and it's actually the second most populous county in the U.S. after Los Angeles County.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners runs elections within the city limits, and the Cook County Clerk’s office is the election authority for the more than 120 towns and villages in suburban Cook County. Noah Praetz is Director of Elections, and he and his team manage 1.46 million registered voters, 1,673 precincts, and a massive team of over 8,500 poll workers.

Being a poll worker is an important job!

Being a poll worker is an important job!

Making tough personnel decisions is one of the many responsibilities of an election director. To keep the decision-making process transparent and focused, Noah uses data. Cook County is currently rolling out a poll worker scoring plan to strategically assign poll workers and improve poll worker training. Performance evaluation, along with recruitment, training, and retention, are critical program components to professionally staff polling places.

Benefits of evaluation

Successfully evaluating poll workers’ performance requires planning and devoted staff time. And it is totally worth it. Formal evaluations give decision-makers data to help them:

  • Pinpoint low-performing and high-performing poll workers

  • Identify poll worker training opportunities

  • Boost accountability in the event of a challenge

Evaluation metrics

Cook County’s poll worker scoring plan covers three performance areas: competency, reliability, and professionalism. Individual poll workers are rated by a staff of trainers and rovers who score poll workers on an overall scale of 1 - 100. Additionally, precinct teams are scored on a 100 point scale based on completing tasks such as the statement of ballots, setting up of the polling place, and delivering the correct ballot style to voters.

Cook County's poll worker evaluation combines 3 categories of individual criteria with additional precinct scoring criteria

Cook County's poll worker evaluation combines 3 categories of individual criteria with additional precinct scoring criteria

Alternately, you can evaluate your poll workers on the specific duties that are most important to your office. Take these examples from Ohio and Maryland.

When Allen County, Ohio started evaluating their poll workers in 2001, they looked at poll books, ballot summary sheets, and returning supplies. Montgomery County, Maryland published a professional practices program in 2006 wherein they outlined their 3-part poll worker evaluation. The Montgomery County system includes in-depth analysis of Election Day documentation returned by poll workers, an Election Judge Performance Report prepared by trained observers, and a peer-to-peer survey conducted by staff after Election Day.*

Once you have determined exactly what you are measuring, make a plan to put it into action. Two resources that are required for the successful implementation are staff time before and after the election and a basic data management tool like Microsoft Excel.

The world is your oyster when it comes to poll worker evaluation. For an effective and long-term evaluation program, consider these tips.

Poll worker evaluation pro tips:

  • Plan ahead -- perhaps convene a task force to increase staff and poll worker buy-in

  • Inform poll workers about how they are being evaluated before evaluating them

  • Thoughtfully deliver results of evaluation, especially to low-performing poll workers

* Content sourced from Election Assistance Commission’s Poll Worker Best Practices guidebook, published in July 2007.

Cook County's way of evaluating poll workers is a great way, but as the examples from Ohio and Maryland show, it's not the only way. What methods have you developed for assessing poll workers in your area? Share your ideas with us at