Yes, the RNC can recruit and train poll workers who handle ballots

Republican National Committee co-chair Lara Trump announced plans to recruit thousands of poll watchers and workers. Here’s what the RNC is allowed to do.

Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, the Republican National Committee announced plans to recruit and train thousands of people to monitor the elections as poll watchers.

It also says it will recruit and train thousands of poll workers, who help facilitate voting and count ballots.

RNC co-chair Lara Trump said in an April 23 interview on Newsmax that people trained by the committee will be in a position where they “can physically handle ballots.”

VERIFY reader Bob wanted to know whether that’s actually possible and legal.

THE QUESTION

Can the RNC recruit and train poll workers who physically handle ballots?

THE SOURCES

    THE ANSWER

    This is true.

    Yes, the RNC can recruit and train poll workers who physically handle ballots.

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    WHAT WE FOUND

    Exact practices vary state by state and county by county, but in general, elections are run by a relatively small team of local government workers and a large group of volunteers and seasonal hires, who are often called poll workers.

    “They're [the people] checking you in… handing you a ballot and pointing you to a privacy booth or pointing you to a ballot marking device. They're walking you through the process,” said Ben Hovland, chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal government agency that helps administer elections. “They're the person that at the end says ‘thank you’ and gives you the ‘I Voted’ sticker.”

    In some places, these poll workers help tabulate ballots.

    The qualifications to become a poll worker also vary depending on state laws, but often workers need to be a registered voter in the state. Once hired, they’re trained and supervised by local elections officials.

    Officials recruit new hires every election season, but it’s not uncommon for local or state political party organizations to also help recruit poll workers.

    “Most states require bipartisan teams [of poll workers],” said Hovland. “In a number of states, the parties specifically nominate poll workers or put poll workers forward.”

    Local parties can be especially helpful for hiring poll workers in places where the pool of possible workers aligned with a particular party is especially small.

    However, for several decades, the national party organization for Republicans – the RNC – was specifically prohibited from recruiting and training poll workers. That was the result of a series of court orders dating back to the 1980s, which aimed to prevent voter intimidation. The court issued a broad ban on RNC “ballot security” initiatives, which it said were often used as tools to suppress minority votes, like sending off-duty police to polling sites in minority neighborhoods on Election Day.

    In 2018, a judge allowed those orders to expire.

    In 2020, the RNC heavily recruited poll watchers. These volunteers are different from poll workers and do not handle ballots or administer the election. Poll watchers usually explicitly work on behalf of a specific party, and their job is simply to observe the voting and ballot-counting process and report any irregularities to their party organization, which can decide to file formal challenges in court.

    In 2024, the RNC again is recruiting poll watchers as well as adding new emphasis on recruiting poll workers. This comes from Republican voters’ concerns about election integrity sparked by former President Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud in his 2020 loss to President Biden.

    The RNC says that its training for both the poll watchers and poll workers it recruits will consist of “comprehensive training sessions… on the monitoring of not only voting sites but also ballot tabulation centers. These trainings will equip volunteers with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively oversee potential problems in the electoral process, guaranteeing that every vote is counted accurately and fairly.”

    Regardless of who recruits them, poll workers answer to the elections offices that hire them.

    “At the end of the day, the local election official provides poll worker training, guidance on how to administer the elections, how to follow the rules and processes and procedures for running the election in the polling place,” Hovland said.

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