SC Supreme Court order encourages lawyers to serve as poll workers this November

Poll workers play an essential role in elections, keeping voters from waiting in line for too long and ensuring every vote is properly counted.
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 7:58 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 7, 2022 at 8:54 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Poll workers play an essential role in elections, keeping voters from waiting in line for too long and ensuring every vote is properly counted.

The highest court in South Carolina recently issued an order that aims to fill these important jobs ahead of the Nov. 8 election by allowing lawyers in South Carolina to earn continuing legal education (CLE) credits for working that day at precincts.

“We swear an oath when we become attorneys to protect and preserve and defend the Constitution, and this, to me, just fits so squarely in that type of service and that type of requirement,” Greenville attorney Jeanmarie Tankersley said.

Tankersley, the immediate past president of the South Carolina Bar Young Lawyers Division, has served in the past as a poll worker, or poll manager, as they are called in South Carolina.

For her, the job has been rewarding, giving her better insight into how the election process works.

“I really think it’s important for as many people as possible to have that type of experience because it makes you value, I think, the election process more and respect it more and hopefully have a little more patience with all of the people that are trying their best to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible,” Tankersley said.

The recent order from the state Supreme Court, issued Sept. 27, encourages more lawyers to do the same this November.

It allows them to earn six of their mandatory CLE credits for the year if they volunteer as a poll worker on Election Day. Participating lawyers must work the entire day, with polls open statewide from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., though Tankersley said workers are usually expected to come in earlier than that and stay later, in her experience.

In exchange for receiving the CLE credits, attorneys would be required to forgo the $135 payment poll managers receive. If they are unable to decline payment, they would have to donate the money to the South Carolina Bar Foundation.

The state Supreme Court first made this credit allowance in 2020.

“There was a massive shortage of poll workers and poll managers throughout the state, and really throughout the country, because, obviously, COVID was such a concern,” Tankersley said, noting many poll workers traditionally are older and were at higher risk of becoming sick.

“Poll managers are critical to conducting elections in South Carolina,” Chris Whitmire of the South Carolina Election Commission said. “We can’t conduct elections without poll managers.”

Whitmire is more optimistic about poll manager numbers this year than in 2020.

“I’m not hearing from any counties right now that feel like they’re in a dire situation, right, that they don’t feel like they’re going to have enough poll managers to do the job,” he said.

But Whitmire also noted that sending in an application is one thing; following through with required training and showing up on Election Day is another.

So he said everything helps to ensure elections run smoothly

“Anything that encourages people to serve in that way, we’re all for,” he said of the Supreme Court’s order.

Anyone who is interested in working as a poll manager for the upcoming general election can apply by visiting scvotes.gov. Their application will be forwarded to their county’s board of elections, which will contact them from there.

To qualify, poll managers must be registered voters in South Carolina, though South Carolinians who are 16 and 17 can work as poll manager assistants.

They cannot be a candidate themselves or the spouse, parent, child or sibling of a candidate at any polling place where the candidate’s name appears on the ballot.

Clerks, who serve as the lead poll manager, must be a registered voter in the county in which they are serving or an adjoining county.

Excluding attorneys who work in exchange for CLE credits, poll managers and assistants receive $135 — $60 for attending training and $75 for working on Election Day. Clerks receive an additional $60 for a $195 payment.