She applied online and was called to duty days before the primary in August. With a quick digital crash course under her belt, she arrived at Happy Trails Resort in Surprise at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, to help facilitate the first round of a closely watched election season.
The day went smoothly — aside from one problem: There was a swell of controversy surrounding the pens.
“People do not want to use the provided pens. And then a lot of the pens disappeared. And then at some point, we literally didn’t have pens,” O’Connor recalled. “People were really upset over pens.”
On Election Day, concerns over the pens and unfounded election tampering reached a crescendo. Gail Golec — an election conspiracist and GOP candidate for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors — encouraged voters to steal the Pentel felt-tipped pens used to fill out ballots. Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell issued a cease and desist letter to Golec, who lost her race.
All eyes seem to be fixated on the county after consistently disputed claims of election fraud stayed in national and state news cycles since 2020. As the November general election looms, the misinformation and mistrust has not stopped.
Now, as the Maricopa County Elections Department works to recruit poll workers for the general election, County Recorder Stephen Richer said educating the public about the people and systems in place remains at the forefront.
“Explaining how elections work is every bit as important as actually executing the elections,” he told Phoenix New Times.
County Hopes to Hire 2,500 Election Workers
Despite the continued scrutiny, Maricopa County saw a successful primary election.
Though some polling locations did not meet the election department’s goal of 10 workers at each site, most were staffed well beyond the four workers required by statute. For the primaries in August, the county staffed 210 polling places.
A survey by the elections department found 97 percent of voters said their experience was satisfactory, very good, or excellent, Richer said, and 95 percent of poll workers said they would be interested in returning.
Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the department is hiring between 2,400 and 2,500 temporary election workers for the general election to support all sides of voting.
Temporary election positions go beyond poll workers. Gilbertson said the department is hiring ballot processors, signature verification clerks, technical support, warehouse workers, delivery drivers and people to man the department’s call center.
“It really does take an entire community to run a successful election,” she noted.
Gilbertson said the department ran into some trouble hiring enough warehouse workers and delivery drivers this year, citing competitive pay in similar positions and a low unemployment rate in Maricopa County.
In July, the department announced a bonus for temporary election workers, offering $1,000 to staff working 240 hours over a minimum of four weeks and a $1,750 bonus to employees working 400 hours and a minimum of eight weeks.
The department has already filled most of the upper level positions, such as the special elections board and poll worker recruiters and trainers, as well as support for overseas and military voters.
Gilbertson said the next steps are hiring and training poll workers. Hybrid training is required for all positions. A typical poll worker undergoes a three-hour-long in-person training session as well as online lessons covering roles, responsibilities, equipment, and the laws governing election workers.
Several positions, including ballot tabulation inspectors and ballot processors, are required to work in pairs, with each person being from a different political party.
“We look to ensure that we have all the parties represented in the positions to make sure that this is a very bipartisan process — or a nonpartisan process if you really think about it,” Gilbertson said.
O’Connor witnessed this method in action. Her polling station served primarily senior citizens. She would help some voters read the ballot or fill in the oval, but not without another poll worker from another political party present to oversee her work.
“It gives you a different perspective on the whole process,” O’Connor said. “Not that I ever doubted the security of the election, but certainly you’re able to see firsthand all the checks and balances.”
Those interested in working as temporary election workers can find more information at Getinvolved.Maricopa.Vote.