Mat-Su officials are looking for 2024 election volunteers

Nonpartisan Election Day workers can make a few hundred dollars while helping make sure ballots are issued and counted.

Mat-Su officials are looking for  2024 election volunteers
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough administration building in Palmer, Alaska. (Amy Bushatz/Mat-Su Sentinel)
  • The Mat-Su Borough is seeking 45 ballot counters and backup volunteers to complete their list of 360 volunteers needed for Election Day in November.
  • Precinct officials, including three poll workers and a precinct chairperson, manage the voting process. Three hand-count officials count the ballots after the polls close.
  • Volunteers receive training and are paid between $200 and $450 depending on their role. Applications for volunteering are available on the borough's website and must be submitted and approved by the borough assembly.

PALMER – The Mat-Su Borough needs Election Day workers, and officials are looking for residents willing to help.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough general election, held the first Tuesday in November, allows residents to select candidates for the Mat-Su Borough Assembly and school board, as well as weigh in on bond proposals and ballot initiatives.

But elections don't run themselves, borough officials say. Placing ballots into the hands of thousands of residents and tallying the results for an area the size of West Virginia takes hundreds of paid volunteers working in 40 polling places, known as precincts, they said.

And while Election Day is still more than four months away, borough officials hope to have the needed workers signed up and trained well before then. In all, the borough needs 280 precinct workers for Election Day, including officials who oversee the voting process, officials who count the ballots after the polls close, and backup volunteers in case someone drops out.

As of Wednesday, they were still looking for 45 ballot counters, plus volunteers to put on an emergency waiting list, said Borough Clerk Lonnie McKechnie, who oversees borough elections.

Volunteering is easy, McKechnie said, with few qualifications, no experience required, and at least a couple of hundred dollars in pay for the day.

For example, poll workers and ballot counters must be borough residents and cannot have a conflict of interest regarding a candidate, such as being an immediate family member, she said. The training required for each worker lasts a couple of hours and includes printed instructions and quick-reference cheat sheets for easy reference on Election Day.

Volunteers are paid between $200 and $450 for their work on Election Day, depending on their role, McKechnie said.


And while the hours can be long—precinct workers pull a long shift from about 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., while counters jump in for a few late-night hours after the polls close—longtime election workers say the chance to be involved in the community makes it worth it.

"For me personally, it's a civic duty," said Tereasa Thompson, who regularly volunteered as a poll worker before joining the borough clerk's office as an administrative assistant. "It was a blessing to be able to see the community over and over and see how they're doing."

What volunteer poll workers do

McKechnie said there are two categories of Election Day volunteers spread across the borough's 40 precincts: precinct officials and hand-count officials.

Typically, each precinct is staffed with four precinct officials, who oversee voting throughout the day, and three hand-count officials, who tally the ballots after the polls close at 8 p.m.

Precinct officials, which include three poll workers and a precinct chairperson, manage the voting process. Duties include checking in voters, issuing ballots, and helping residents place their completed ballots in a secure box, McKechnie said. The precinct chairperson is also responsible for helping with so-called "questioned ballots," or ballots cast by a voter whose name isn't on the rolls or who may have recently moved, she said.

Precinct workers can expect to work more than 12 hours on Election Day because the borough doesn't allow multiple worker shifts. Because volunteers interact with individual voters all day and oversee the voting process, it's best if the same person who checks in voters in the morning is still there in the afternoon, McKechnie said.

But the chairperson has an even longer day because they cannot make their final report until after the ballots are counted, a process that can take hours, she said.

Poll workers are paid $375 for the day; the precinct captain is paid $450, she said.

While hand-count officials have shorter shifts, they don't start work until after the polls close at 8 p.m. and stay on the job until every vote is counted.

A hand-count official's job is exactly what it sounds like: counting ballots by hand.

In 2022, a change to borough code ended machine ballot counting in the Mat-Su and instituted a hand-count process instead. Rather than feed each ballot into a voting machine for electronic counting, the ballots are placed in a secure ballot box that is opened after the polls close under the close supervision of several precinct workers.

The ballots from the box are then placed in a paper tabulating machine, which only tallies the total number of ballots submitted, and that total is compared to the precinct captain's count of ballots issued during the day, McKechnie said.

Hand-count officials and a hand-count chairman then work through each ballot question or race, sorting the ballots into stacks organized by candidate or question. The stacks are then counted by hand and totaled to match the initial number identified by the paper-counting machine.

Depending on the number of residents in the precinct and how many of them turned out to vote, the process can take just a couple of hours or go much longer, she said. That's because while the smallest precincts in the borough, such as those outside Willow, may have only a few hundred registered voters, others closer to Palmer and Wasilla have thousands.

Non-Election Day volunteers

The first Tuesday in November isn't the only day the borough needs election volunteers. Absentee and early voting workers help distribute, count, and verify ballots brought in before and after Election Day, while canvass board members help certify the results. But because those roles can be so technical, McKechnie said officials tend to fill them with election volunteers who have a lot of prior experience in the job.

How to volunteer

Residents interested in volunteering on Election Day must submit a worker application that includes their personal contact information, the role they're interested in, and any potential conflicts or criminal history. Officials in McKechnie's office then review the applications and selected volunteers are approved by a vote of the borough assembly. Borough law requires past volunteers to reapply each year.

Applications can be found on the borough's website and returned by mail, fax, email, or in person at the borough administration building. Volunteers are notified of their approval by borough officials.

Other ways to volunteer at elections

The borough isn't the only entity that needs poll workers. Because 2024 is also a statewide office and presidential election year, voters will also cast a second state-issued ballot in November, with distribution overseen by a group of state election volunteers. Learn more about volunteering as a state poll worker.

Elections for Palmer, Wasilla and Houston city councils and city-approved ballot questions will also be held in early October, a process that also requires volunteer workers. Learn more about volunteering for elections in Palmer, Wasilla and Houston.

-- Amy Bushatz can be contacted at

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