Archive for Wednesday, July 21, 2004

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County election officials report shortage of primary workers

July 21, 2004

Guessing people are turned off by long hours and difficulty missing a day of work, some area county election offices are coming up a bit short on poll workers this year. Though the shortage isn't drastic, officers in Leavenworth, Wyandotte and Johnson counties all say they could use a few more warm bodies to run the upcoming primary elections on Aug. 3.

Leavenworth County Clerk Linda Scheer described the situation in her county as "spotty."

"Well, some areas we have plenty, and some we are short," she said. "There seems to be a shortage."

Scheer said she hoped to have three or four workers for each of Leavenworth County's polling places. Some of the 36 precincts were taken care of, she said, but others were still lacking.

"It's always a problem to find as many as you'd like to have," said Wyandotte County Election Commissioner Pat Rajiha. "We're doing pretty good, but we could use a few more."

Rajiha said Wyandotte County wanted at least three election workers for each of its 159 precincts. She said they have that number now but no extras for back-up.

By far the largest, Johnson County needs about 1,300 to 1,400 workers to fill spots at 415 precincts, said the county's election commissioner, Connie Schmidt.

Schmidt said the county hoped for at least 50 more people to help with primary elections. That's pretty normal for this time of year, she said, but November's elections could be more of a problem.

Presidential elections draw even more voters, she said, and mobilizing an election staff was a new process each season.

"We always worry because it's a job that you almost have to start all over again, so it's a massive recruitment, really, for every election," she said.

Counties have been recruiting for workers with newspaper advertisements, flyers, posters and inserts with mailings to voters.

Most election workers are paid $85 for a day of work and $15 for a required three-hour training session. Supervising judges are paid $100.

For poll workers, election day lasts from 6 a.m. until all the work is finished, usually an hour or two after the polls close at 7 p.m., Schmidt said.

Anyone who is at least 16 years old can apply to work at the polls, but election officers say the most common recruits are elderly citizens who no longer work during the days.

Scheer said a long day could be one reason some people don't want to work the polls.

"I think it's the long hours," she said. "And once you get into the more elderly, they just have a hard time sitting that long."

Scheer also said primary election partisanship was a problem for others.

Election workers sometimes bear the brunt of ire from voters who didn't realize ahead of time that they could only vote with their registered party.

But overall, Schmidt said working at the polls was educational for many, who learned about all sides of elections by running them.

"I think they find it a very beneficial experience," she said. "Many comments from new people are that they had no idea."

Schmidt said Johnson County was starting a new program this year to encourage businesses to allow employees to work the polls on Aug. 3 instead of going to their regular jobs. They then apply part of their pay to a charitable cause.

Schmidt said the district attorney's office would be one of the first groups to participate in the program, called Adopt A Polling Place.

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