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Scarcity of poll workers persists

The days are long and the pay is little, but the job is an opportunity to become part of democracy in action.

King County needs between 3,400 to 3,500 workers to properly operate the county’s polling stations, said Jamila Jordan, King County poll worker coordinator.

Less than a week away from the Aug. 21 primary election, the county is still experiencing a shortage in poll workers.

At least 200 more people are needed. The job requires dedication, patience and the ability to work long hours, but has its rewards. Regardless, every year King County struggles to fill poll worker positions, Jordan said.

“It’s not like jury duty; we can’t just summon people,” she said

Come election day, each polling station needs people to man it. Without these people, citizens who are not absentee voters would not be able to vote.

For each precinct the polling station serves, there must be one poll book judge, one inspector and someone responsible for setting up and taking down a machine called the accessible voting unit, Jordan said.

Judges are responsible for handing out ballots and checking everyone’s identification. Inspectors act as supervisors and at the end of the day, they deliver the ballots to the county. They must account for every ballot cast, Jordan said.

Other workers are responsible for setting up polling booths and accessible voting units. The number of workers needed at a given station is the number of precincts that station serves plus four, she said.

Work begins around 6 a.m. when poll workers start setting up for the day’s activities and usually commences somewhere between 9 and 10 p.m. Because voting occurs on Tuesdays, many poll workers are senior citizens or those whose jobs allow them to take the time off, Jordan said.

Perks of a poll worker

Federal Way resident Larry Bridenbach, 78, has been a poll worker for more than a decade.

The 16-hour shift can be rough.

“I’m pretty tired by the time I get through it all,” he said.

In each passing year, fewer people seem to vote in person, which can turn the long hours into a tedious waiting game, Bridenbach said.

Annette Tabor of Federal Way has worked the polling stations for more than 40 years. She suggests bringing something to read to pass the time.

However, being a poll worker has its perks too.

“The advantage is you feel like you’re accomplishing something,” Bridenbach said.

The chance to socialize with people in the community and make some extra cash is a benefit, Tabor said. Bridenbach specifically remembers the joy he experienced from witnessing a blind man vote by using the accessible voting unit, without help, for the first time.

For their training and work completed, poll workers receive about $150 to $200, depending on which position they serve, Jordan said.

The money is nice to have, but it is not the driving force behind Tabor’s desire to be a poll worker, she said.

“You certainly don’t do it for the money,” Tabor said.

Being a part of a long-standing tradition and promoting democracy is appealing to some. Although many people now vote by mail, those who go to the polls do so for a reason, Federal Way resident Barbara Reid said. It requires a conscious effort and demonstrates an active desire to contribute and weigh-in on how one’s government operates, she said.

Almost anyone can be a poll worker, and a few requirements must be met.

A person must be at least 16 years old, be able to read and write English, be qualified to legally work in the United States and not be a felon, Jordan said.

The job does not require an application or background check. A four-hour paid training course must be taken and the full election day must be worked, she said.

Poll workers are also asked to remain non-partisan while operating the stations, Jordan said.

Customer service and patience are important because poll workers assist a variety of people throughout the day, she said. Also, basic math skills are necessary because poll books will need to be balanced and every ballot accounted for. Having the ability to rise early and sit for long periods of time will help the 16-hour shift go by, she said.

While the job may not be the most exciting or action-packed, it is necessary. Finding people willing to sacrifice their time for the good of the community is difficult to do, Jordan said.

In recent years the county has been unable to find a sufficient number of poll workers, and county employees have been summoned to leave their daily positions and work the polling stations.

“All of the vacancies have never been filled,” Jordan said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To volunteer to be a poll worker, call the King County Poll Worker Coordination office at (206) 296-1606 or visit www.kingcounty.gov/elections.

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