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Arizona Poll Workers: Rules and Constraints

Guardrails to ensure that Arizona poll workers cannot disrupt election processes.

  • Written and Published in Partnership with All Voting is Local, with Special Thanks to Ballard Spahr, LLP
Published: September 29, 2022
View the entire Poll Worker Rules and Constraints series

Arizona saw an increasingly diverse electorate turn out to vote at historic rates in 2020. As soon as returns started coming in on election night, however, activists began spreading false claims of rampant voter fraud, ranging from allegations that Sharpie pens resulted in miscounted ballots to claims that dead voters cast hundreds of ballots. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate eventually hired a third party to conduct a partisan review of the election. While the “audit” found no evidence of widespread fraud, many voters and Republican leaders and candidates in the state continue to cast doubt on the integrity of Arizona’s elections, past and future.

Election experts now question how this widespread belief in unfounded fraud conspiracies will affect the upcoming Arizona general election. Many fear that the easiest way to “penetrate into the election process would be through . . . poll workers.” Recent press reports indicate that individuals who subscribe to falsehoods about election processes are already being recruited as poll workers in the state.

In Arizona, poll workers play a vital role in executing elections. For elections to function efficiently, it is critical that government officials recruit enough qualified individuals from all political parties to serve as poll workers. It is equally critical, however, that state and local officials take reasonable steps to ensure that poll workers are willing to follow the law and lawful instructions on Election Day.

Arizona, like other states, already has many guardrails in place to prevent those who seek to undermine elections from qualifying as poll workers and stop those individuals from disrupting election processes. Below is a list of existing legal and procedural safeguards to prevent poll worker disruptions, along with further actions election officials can take.

Legal Constraints on Poll Workers

Eligibility

All applicants, including political party nominees, must go through the appointment process. Arizona utilizes four types of poll workers, detailed below, for each precinct: one inspector, one marshal, two judges, and as many clerks of election as it deems necessary — collectively referred to as the “election board.” footnote1_khr97hp 1 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A); see also ARIZ. SEC’Y OF STATE’S OFF., 2019 ARIZONA ELECTIONS PROCEDURES MANUAL (hereinafter “AEPM”), 133 n.37, https://azsos.gov/sites/default/files/2019_ELECTIONS_PROCEDURES_MANUAL_APPROVED.pdf (last visited Sept. 22, 2022). Polling places with less than 300 qualified electors require only one inspector and two judges.  State law allows prospective poll workers to seek appointment in several ways, subject to the party representation requirements listed below. Judges may be nominated by the chair of a county’s political party at least 90 days before an election or appointed by the county’s board of supervisors if no nominations are submitted. footnote2_jkati9r 2 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A); AEPM, supra note 1, at 133. Whenever possible, the boards of supervisors should appoint inspectors who have had previous experience as an inspector, judge, marshal, or clerk of election. footnote3_oumswmb 3 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A). See also AEPM, supra note 1, at 133. If no qualified person exists in a given precinct, the board may appoint an inspector from names designated by the county party chairperson. footnote4_zk3a8ch 4 Id. Boards also appoint marshals and clerks of elections. footnote5_6z6h5on 5 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A). Each appointment method requires ultimate approval from a county’s board of supervisors. footnote6_j8jmn35 6 Id.

Poll workers must meet certain eligibility requirements under Arizona law. Each county may develop its own poll worker application process, but all applicants, regardless of the county in which they reside, must be qualified voters of the precinct unless: (1) not enough poll workers meet this requirement or (2) the county utilizes vote centers — voting locations that any eligible voter in the county can visit on Election Day. footnote7_qi2i6e6 7 See Ariz. Sec’y of State’s Off., 2022 County Poll Worker Information, https://azsos.gov/elections/pollworker2022 (last visited Sept. 23, 2022); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A). Poll workers need only be a registered voter of the state if working at a vote center that serves several precincts on Election Day. See, e.g., All About Vote Centers (2022), https://webcms.pima.gov/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=844938.  In both instances, being a qualified voter of the state suffices. footnote8_gxrf6gj 8 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A); 16–411(b)(4). See also, e.g., All About Vote Centers, supra note 7. Poll workers also cannot be a candidate (nor the spouse, child, or parent of a candidate) in the election. footnote9_1artbiz 9 See Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–531(A), (D); AEPM, supra note 1, at 132–39. If there are not enough poll workers who meet the residential requirement, qualified voters from the state as a whole will suffice. Further, the precinct committeeman or a candidate for that office may still be qualified to be a poll worker. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(D). Students may serve as clerks if they are at least 16 years of age and, among other requirements, are supervised by a trained election officer. footnote10_oy96yzm 10 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(F). With respect to inspectors in particular, any person appointed to the position should have previous experience as an inspector, judge, marshal, or clerk whenever possible. footnote11_ztmukg3 11 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A).

Poll workers must be appointed to ensure bipartisan representation. Arizona law provides specific party affiliation requirements to ensure bipartisan representation in the election workforce. For example, inspectors, marshals, and judges cannot have changed their political party or party preference affiliation since the last preceding general election and must be divided equally between the two major political parties. footnote12_dftog06 12 Id.; see also AEPM, supra note 1, at 132–39.  Counties must have an equal number of inspectors in their precincts from each of the two political parties, and the marshal and inspector for a given precinct must be from opposing parties. footnote13_oku3677 13 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A).  If unable to sufficiently appoint boards with members of different political parties, county election officials should exercise their best efforts to appoint members with no party affiliation or from different, unrecognized parties. footnote14_tul8ehc 14 AEPM, supra note 1, at 134 n.38.  Boards should not otherwise turn away poll worker applicants solely on the basis of their viewpoints or beliefs so long as they are consistent with laws governing elections. footnote15_limxgms 15 See generally U.S. Const. amend. I.

Poll workers must be willing to follow applicable laws and procedures. Before opening the polls, Arizona law requires poll workers to “take an oath to faithfully perform the duties imposed on each member by law.” footnote16_m442w9a 16 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–534(C).  Poll workers specifically “swear (or affirm) that [they] will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona” and faithfully and impartially perform their duties. footnote17_lyhr13s 17 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38–231.  Pursuant to this oath, boards may refuse to appoint applicants who demonstrate an unwillingness to follow applicable laws and instructions.

Poll workers must attend a training. Within 45 days before an election, state law requires county election officials to provide poll worker training for inspectors, judges, and any other election board members they deem necessary. footnote18_m60px0s 18 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–532(A); see also AEPM, supra note 1, at 136–38.  Among other topics, the training must cover applicable election laws and voting procedures. footnote19_eofpxd1 19 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–532(A).  Poll workers who successfully complete the training must receive a certificate of qualification and may not serve on Election Day without such a certificate. footnote20_qczufu3 20 Id. An exception exists for inspectors and judges appointed to fill a vacancy as provided in Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–533, 16–534.  Counties may also approve an alternate method of instruction and testing for “premium [election] board workers” — election workers who complete and pass additional training requirements such that they are not required to take any additional training classes for at least 30 months. footnote21_erc1gkg 21 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–532(D). See also, e.g., Maricopa Cty. Elections Dep’t, 2022 Elections Plan 35, https://recorder.maricopa.gov/site/pdf/FINAL%20-%202022%20Elections%20Plan.pdf (last visited Sept. 22, 2022).  

Chain of Command

Poll workers must answer only to their respective local election officials. At the county level, election administration is split between the county board of supervisors and the county recorder. Boards handle specific Election Day responsibilities, including managing polling places, deciding whether the county will use voting centers, and certifying election results. footnote22_rgujsyr 22 See, e.g., AEPM, supra note 1, at 238.  Many county boards choose to delegate these responsibilities to an elections director. footnote23_jm1old1 23 See, e.g., Ariz. Sec’y of State’s Off., County Election Officials Contact Information, https://azsos.gov/county-election-info (last visited Sept. 22, 2022).  Pursuant to state law, poll workers — including inspectors, marshals, judges, and clerks — are appointed and compensated by their respective county board of supervisors (and, in practice, the elections director), which can also remove poll workers for cause. footnote24_846wnqa 24 Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–531(A), (I); see also id. § 16–536.  Recorders handle non-Election Day duties, including voter registration and early voting. footnote25_0xtij7x 25 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–411(B)(4).  Poll workers may work under the authority of county recorders during early voting. Accordingly, poll workers must answer only to their board, elections director, or county recorder rather than to their political party or any party official.

Each poll worker is tasked with specific duties to create a clear chain of command structure. These duties include:

  • Inspector (1) – The inspector acts as the chair of the election board for the polling location and, under the direction of county election officials, oversees all election-related activities at a voting location. footnote26_gwgbrg5 26 AEPM, supra note 1, at 135.  The position’s duties include leading and assigning duties to other poll workers, appointing a substitute judge, marshal, or clerk on Election Day (while maintaining party balance) in the event a poll worker does not show up or is removed, and ensuring that the polling place is functioning properly. footnote27_1tglpcp 27 Id.; Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–534.  The inspector serves as a voting location’s single point of contact with county officials on Election Day and must raise all high-level decisions through county channels. footnote28_30lw2hk 28 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–534; see also AEPM, supra note 1, at 134–35.
  • Marshal (1) – Marshals preserve order at the polls and prevent election law violations, including voter intimidation or impermissible electioneering. footnote29_ka7n4oe 29 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–535(B); AEPM, supra note 1, at 135.  To ensure that elections operate efficiently, marshals also measure the length of wait times and must notify the inspector if wait times have the potential to equal or exceed 30 minutes, as well as request additional voting machines, voting booths, and workers as appropriate. footnote30_i31sg5i 30 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–535(B).  In exceptional circumstances of violence or threats of violence, the marshal — independently or jointly with the inspector — may call law enforcement for the limited purpose of resolving the situation. footnote31_f89pk0j 31 See Ariz. Sec’y of State’s Off., Guidance on Polling Place Conduct and Preventing Voter Intimidation (hereinafter “2020 Secretary of State Guidance”) 2–3 (2020), https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/7232360-Voter-Intimidation-Prevention-Guide.html?embed=true&responsive=false&sidebar=false.  The marshal may also perform the duties of any other election board member on a relief basis. footnote32_2dth88t 32 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–535; see also AEPM, supra note 1, at 135.
  • Judge (at least 2) – Judges oversee the actual voting process, including issuing ballots, assisting voters with marking ballots and using voting equipment, and completing affidavits for provisional ballots. footnote33_pfbryg3 33 See AEPM, supra note 1, at 135–36 (citing Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–579(C), 16–467(B), 16–572(B).  Some counties expressly refer to judges as the “back up for the inspector” such that “they will aid in the same responsibilities as the inspector.” footnote34_3t04pki 34 See, e.g., Maricopa Cty. Elections Dep’t, 2022 Training Manual: Poll Workers 16 (2022) (hereinafter “2022 Maricopa County Training Manual”), https://elections.maricopa.gov/asset/jcr:2f02b340–4bc1–4782–8fa1–9813afabb37a/FINAL%202022%20Primary%20General%20Manual_Redacted1.pdf.
  • Clerk (as many as needed) – Inspectors may assign clerks a variety of different duties at a polling place, including assisting voters with the check-in process, verifying identification and determining voter eligibility, and maintaining the signature roster or electronic pollbook. footnote35_2x8uwnt 35 See, e.g., id.; Pinal Cty. Ariz. Elections Dep’t, Election Board Worker Job Description, https://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/elections/Documents/Poll%20Worker%20Resources/election-worker-job-description-clerk.pdf (last visited Sept. 22, 2022).

Counties also may assign specific duties and create additional roles within the chain of command structure as needed. For example, Maricopa County has created the role of “Voter Registration Clerk.” footnote36_iitrsa3 36 See 2022 Maricopa County Training Manual, supra note 34.  Similarly, Pima County has created the roles of “Judge of the Same Party,” “Judge of Opposite Party,” and “Ballot Clerk.” footnote37_jc2mkho 37 Pima Cty. Inspector, Equipment Specialty & Marshall Handbook 34–35 (2022), https://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6/File/Government/elections/pdfs/Poll%20Workers/Inspector%20marshal%20and%20special%20equipmentHandbook%20Primary.pdf; Pima Cty. Judges & Clerks Handbook 22 (2022),  https://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6/File/Government/elections/pdfs/Poll%20Workers/2022%20Judges%20and%20Clerks%20Handbook%20Primary.pdf.

Following Applicable Laws

Poll workers must follow applicable local, state, and federal laws. footnote38_bysrz4h 38 Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–1009, 16–1010, 38–231.  Poll workers who fail to follow these laws may violate their oath of office, warrant removal by the county board of supervisors or elections director, and face criminal liability. footnote39_iobdcm6 39 Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–1009, 16–1010, 38–231, 16–531(I), 16–534(C).  These applicable laws include the following constraints:

Poll workers may not intimidate or harass voters. Federal and state laws prohibit actual or attempted intimidation, threats, or coercion against a voter with the purpose of interfering with the right to vote. footnote40_r53neeq 40 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); 52 U.S.C. § 10307(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); 18 U.S.C. § 594; Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–1006, 16–1008, 16–1013; 13–1202; see also generally 2020 Secretary of State Guidance, supra note 31.  Violators — including poll workers — are subject to significant criminal liability. footnote41_3e84cw0 41 Id.  Examples of prohibited intimidation may include, without limitation, raising one’s voice or taunting a voter; using threatening, insulting, or offensive language; or blocking the entrance to a voting location or otherwise disrupting voting lines. footnote42_19dn7o0 42 See 2020 Secretary of State Guidance, supra note 31, at 4; AEPM, supra note 1, at 180–81.  Posting signs or communicating messages about penalties for “voter fraud” also may constitute intimidation if done in a “harassing or intimidating manner.” footnote43_0xcxd4m 43 AEPM, supra note 1, at 180–81.

Poll workers may not disrupt elections through disinformation. The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office considers certain types of disinformation to constitute impermissible intimidation, including “[i]ntentionally disseminating false or misleading information at a voting location, such as flyers or communications that misstate the date of the election, hours of operation for voting locations, addresses for voting locations, or similar efforts intended to disenfranchise voters.” footnote44_xmy0fw9 44 Id.

Poll workers may not otherwise interfere with or attempt to influence voters. In addition to prohibiting voter intimidation, state law prohibits certain activities inside the 75-foot limit of a polling place, including wearing clothing with a political message or “electioneering.” footnote45_833nmcz 45 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–515(F). If the voting location has an “emergency” designation, electioneering is prohibited anywhere on site, even outside the 75-foot limit. Id. § 16–411(H).  In this context, “electioneering” refers to handing out campaign literature, talking to voters or poll workers about candidates or issues, or otherwise attempting to influence the election. footnote46_7zkbtun 46 Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–515(I), 16–1018.  Relatedly, it is a misdemeanor offense for any poll worker to attempt to find out for whom an individual voted, open or examine a ballot before depositing it in the ballot box, or disclose an individual’s vote if discovered by fraudulent or illegal means. footnote47_u0gbptq 47 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–1007.

Poll workers must adhere to challenge procedures and limitations. Poll workers do not serve as challengers in Arizona. Rather, when qualified voters raise challenges, one inspector and two judges must rule on the challenge pursuant to certain procedures and limitations set out by statute. footnote48_2hyr3tn 48 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–590. For example, voters may only be challenged on several grounds: they voted before in that election, they are not the person whose name appears in the signature roster or e-pollbook, they do not meet the requisite residency requirements or registration requirements, or they are not a qualified elector. footnote49_97oheo6 49 Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–590, 16–591, 16–592, 16–593; see also AEPM, supra note 1, at 189–91.  Challenges based on race, national origin, appearance, surname language, or religion are not permitted. footnote50_1yj4ypo 50 See, e.g., 2020 Secretary of State Guidance, supra note 31, at 3.  A voter must be given a regular ballot if the voter appears to be registered and takes the requisite oath or if the majority of the inspector and two judges finds the challenge invalid. footnote51_t5fqn0a 51 Id.; Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–592.  If the challenged voter refuses to answer questions to the challenge or if the challenge is determined to be valid, the challenged voter must still be permitted to vote a provisional ballot. footnote52_xif8er7 52 Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 16–59(B)-(C).

Poll workers may not tamper with ballots. Under Arizona law, it is a felony offense to substitute, forge, counterfeit, or tamper with ballot tabulations or totals or destroy a polling list, ballot, or ballot box with the intent to “interrupt or invalidate the election.” footnote53_l4x346j 53 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–1016.  It is also a misdemeanor offense for any poll worker to knowingly attempt to find out for whom a person voted by, for example, opening a ballot or allowing a ballot to be opened. footnote54_g7gknd7 54 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–1007.

Available Enforcement Mechanisms

Arizona election officials have broad authority to ensure that elections run smoothly and remain free from disruptions by rogue poll workers and observers. Available enforcement mechanisms include:

Screening process. As noted above, each county board has ultimate control over the poll worker appointment process. footnote55_32i8dcn 55 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531.  Consistent with this authority, boards may develop clear screening plans to ensure that applicants submit complete applications and are willing to follow all applicable laws and procedures.

Training content. As noted above, state law requires all poll workers to complete training before the election. footnote56_q8qsqac 56 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–532(A); see also AEPM, supra note 1, at 136–38.  At this training, officials should remind poll workers about relevant laws and rules, including their duty to answer only to the election officials and workers within their chain of command rather than any political party, party official, or other outside individual or entity. Similarly, officials should train poll workers to identify and report any violations of these procedures — whether by their fellow poll workers or other individuals. These training sessions provide an opportunity for county election officials to clearly explain the checks in place to prevent voter fraud or manipulation of the election process and provide context to correct common rumors and misperceptions.

Assigning poll workers. Given the inspector’s authority over all election-related activities at voting locations, state law requires each county board to appoint an inspector with previous election experience whenever possible. footnote57_8bdkgcd 57 See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(A).  If they do not already, local officials can aim to track where first-time poll workers (at all levels) are placed, distribute first-time poll workers evenly across the jurisdiction, and ensure that every precinct has at least one poll worker with previous experience.

Removal. As detailed above, in the event that a poll worker refuses to comply with their duties or follow applicable laws, or otherwise disrupts the election process, that poll worker should be immediately removed. footnote58_7i1ease 58 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16–531(I).  In case a disruption occurs, counties should also prepare a set removal plan and procedure. This plan could include: (1) a written list of common grounds for removal; (2) properly documenting the cause of the removal and all parties involved; and (3) maintaining, if possible, a list of back up poll workers to cover staffing shortages.

Oath of office. The oath of office provides a strong legal basis for preventing and addressing abuses by poll workers. footnote59_f7jtidt 59 See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38–231.

End Notes