A new state law approved this week changed one word in the state’s elections laws, but it could eventually be a way to get more poll workers, local officials said. Senate Bill S.443A, signed Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allows for county boards of elections to split shifts of poll workers — allowing workers to take shifts shorter than the 16-hour shifts for general elections and nine-hour shifts for primary elections, as long as there is at least one poll worker from each major party working at one time. The change in the law — which changes the word “half” to “split” — won’t mean immediate relief for long poll workers’ days, but local elections officials said it could be “a step maybe in the right direction.”
The law was sponsored by Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean. Young had introduced the bill eight times in the Senate, beginning in 2006 and then in every successive two-year legislative session. Before 2017, the bill was never passed by a committee to the full Senate for approval.
“Our Election Day polls represent the front lines of our democratic process, making it critically important that they are fully staffed with qualified workers who can monitor the process, answer questions, and tabulate results. However, securing the necessary number of inspectors has become increasingly challenging due, in part, to the exceptionally strenuous time frame associated with the job,” said Young in a press release. “Allowing Boards of Election the option of dividing shifts will help attract new volunteers and also ensure that inspectors are engaged, responsive and focused on their duties, rather than being fatigued by a marathon workday.”