On June 10, Electoral Courts began to appoint poll workers for this year´s elections and occasional runoff. The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) expects approximately 2 million poll workers to participate in the elections of 2014. A list featuring all summoned qualified individuals will be published on August 6.
Poll workers are usually selected among the voters of the same polling place where they will serve, provided they are in good electoral standing and have a higher education degree. “Poll workers contribute to the integrity and transparency of elections, enabling voters to exercise their right to vote and be voted. They are responsible for conducting Election Day tasks and procedures”, says Zélia Miranda, secretary of Personnel Management (SGP) and coordinator of the TSE Poll Workers Work Group.
It is permitted to voluntarily participate in the electoral process, provided the requirements set forth in the Electoral Code (Law N. 4,737) are met. In 2010, 600 thousand out of the more than two million poll workers who served during the general elections held that year were volunteers. In an effort to encourage voters to volunteer and take an active role in democracy by serving on the Election Day, the Electoral Court System has been organizing the Volunteer Poll Worker program since 2004.
According to Zélia Miranda, it is quite important to have citizens volunteering to participate in election works. “They have a critical role to play on the polling day. A few actions have been developed in that sense. Some Regional Electoral Courts (TREs) have established partnerships with universities with a view to encouraging undergraduate students to participate in the voting process and ensuring that participating students are offered student loans, and have service hours counted as earned internship credits”, she says.
The project is aimed at increasing the number of people who are spontaneously willing to serve Electoral Courts. The purpose is to register volunteer poll workers, college students or not, who are eligible and duly qualified to satisfactorily perform their duties on the polling day.
Interested citizens may appear before the closest electoral register or fill in a form on the internet at the official website of the competent TRE to register as volunteers. They may also access TSE´s website (www.tse.jus.br) and click on the tab Voters – Volunteer Poll Workers.
A work group formed by representatives from the TSE and from a few TREs prepared and developed all training activities. The material was produced at the Electoral Court and disseminated in state Courts. “We prepared a poll worker manual and poll worker video, in two versions, one including biometrics, and one without making reference to it. The voting districts that will make use of biometric devices count on specific reference materials”, said the secretary of the SGP.
Benefits, exemptions and sanctions
In addition to being given a chance to directly participate in the election process, poll workers are awarded with other benefits. Although it consists of an unpaid job, poll workers are granted meal allowance and exemption from work for two days, which is applicable to both public and private jobs, for each day of service. Having worked as a volunteer poll worker may also be used as a selection criterion in entrance examinations to be admitted as a civil servant.
When summoned, poll workers are required to serve during the polling day. In case they cannot appear at the respective polling places on the scheduled date, they must forward a justification to the competent electoral judge within five days after having been summoned. Impediments that arise after that time will be accepted, provided reasons are presented and proved. Summoned poll workers who fail to file a justification for service absence until Election Day and do not appear at the polling places they have been assigned to on the scheduled date and time may file a justification within 30 days after elections are held. Electoral legislation establishes sanctions for poll workers who fail to serve on the voting day and do not justify their absence. In such cases, absentees are subject to the application of an electoral fine.
The purpose of setting election boards at polling places is to welcome and identify voters, enabling them to safely exercise their constitutional right to vote by secret ballot. Election board members include one chairperson, two poll workers (one clerk and one deputy clerk), two assistant clerks and one substitute.
Each post is assigned with specific duties. The chair is responsible for maintaining the order at the polling place so as to ensure that electoral procedures are followed, and may even request police support if necessary. The chair must also initiate and close voting procedures, check the credentials of inspectors, follow the procedures to print the “zerésima” (a report generated when an electronic voting machine is turned on, containing its identification and proving that all candidates are registered in the system and no vote has been counted yet), type the number of voter´s cards in poll workers´ electronic terminals – which enables voters to either vote or justify their failure to appear at the assigned polling place -, receive objections to voters´ identities, ensure that all voting materials and receipts are forwarded to returning boards, handle problems, and clear any doubts that may arise during the polling day.
Assistant clerks are responsible for filling in the minutes of the election board, assist voters queuing to cast their ballots and check their documents to confirm if they are actually assigned to vote at that polling place. Additionally, assistant clerks must control the entry and circulation of voters inside the polling place, distribute polling place admittance passes, check if voters who are outside their voting district have properly completed “Electoral Justification Forms”, and make sure that voters´ documents and voting receipts are returned as they exit the polling place.
Poll workers (one clerk and one deputy clerk) replace the chairperson in the event of his or her absence. They are also responsible for finding voters´ names in the voting list and requesting their signatures; dictating voters´ cards registration numbers to the chair; providing voters with a voting receipt or proof that a justification form has been filed; and returning voters´ documents. Additionally, they must use fingerprint reader devices to perform the biometric identification of voters.