[Image courtesy of the Virginian-Pilot]
A bill that recently overwhelmingly passed the Virginia General Assembly will allow Old Dominion pollworkers to waive payment for their services to counties and cities.
On the surface, the widespread support for the bill seems puzzling; you can see why jurisdictions would want to cut costs, but why would pollworkers be willing to work for free?
Like so many other issues, the answer is tied up (in part) in the tax code.
The fees that pollworkers receive for their service on Election Day are so slight that it hardly seems fair to call it a salary – but it is nonetheless treated as taxable income it is under the tax code. For older pollworkers, this can be an issue given income limitations for Social Security and other benefits.
Moreover, election offices face IRS information reporting requirements related to the payment of pollworkers. This document from the Election Center summarizes a Revenue Ruling (2000-6) detailing the necessary reports involved. One need not read the document carefully to realize why election offices might be happy to have some election officers work for free.
It will be interesting to see down the line whether more jurisdictions who already pay their pollworkers follow Virginia’s example. It will also be interesting to see how, if at all, the law changes the composition of Virginia’s pollworker corps; specifically, what percentage of pollworkers will forgo payment, will it change the numbers and types of individuals willing to serve – and will jurisdictions see a significant cost reduction as a result?
The money available to serve as a pollworker in most communities is so small that – when combined with the hours and demands of the job – individuals likely already see it as a volunteer position. Virginia’s decision to allow pollworkers to waive the fiction of compensation is an interesting approach – in essence, making a position more attractive by giving workers the chance to work for free.