Originally created 10/13/03

County lacks poll workers



The hours are long. The pay is low. The job can be stressful.

Just ask Richmond County voting precinct manager Mattie Lawson about the time she told a young man he had to have a picture ID to vote, and he left, only to return with something bulging in his pocket.

He was eventually allowed to vote after producing three other IDs and left peacefully, but Mrs. Lawson always has wondered about that encounter.

"It kind of frightened me to see his pocket sticking out," she said. "It could have been his cigarette lighter. Or it could have been anything."

For what usually turns out to be a 14-hour day, entry-level poll workers are paid $85. Managers who oversee two precincts at a polling site get top pay of $175 a day.

Add to that a need for some technical skill to deal with Georgia's electronic voting equipment, and it's not surprising there's a poll-worker shortage in Richmond County, in Georgia and across the nation.

"It's a long day, and at my poll, they have to bring their dinner, and most of them don't," Mrs. Lawson said. "They want to smoke and break, and you're not able to do that. And then, too, they say it's not enough money.

"We as older seniors feel like it's our duty, but they (the younger workers) don't feel like it's their duty."

Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections, said that she does not know the average age of poll workers in the county but that most are senior citizens and are vital to the election process.

"These are the workers that are the most dedicated, the most loyal," she said. "They're there election after election after election. They never falter, never fail. Without them I don't think we could even hold elections."

An exception to the shortage is Columbia County, where Board of Elections Superintendent Deborah Marshall said she has a waiting list of potential poll workers.

Mrs. Bailey said it takes about 650 people to staff polling sites during a big general election. Only 420 will work the Nov. 4 election, during which 35 of the 52 polling sites will be open, but recruiting enough workers is always a challenge.

Former Executive Director Linda Beazley, now the director of the Georgia secretary of state's elections division, said young people don't seem as willing as older generations to dedicate time and talent as poll workers.

"It is difficult to get people to work those long hours," Ms. Beazley said. "The other thing is they're so criticized by the voters."

Ed and Montine Bible and Charles and Maxine Whisnant, like most Richmond County poll workers, have worked elections for years, and they recruit friends, associates and family members.

Mrs. Lawson has recruited her children, grandchildren and godchildren. They are among the few young faces voters see working the polls.

Meanwhile, electronic voting equipment creates a need for people with technical computer experience, Mrs. Bailey said.

That's one thing that makes Robert Bauer, an information technology project manager at E-Z-Go, invaluable during elections in Richmond County. Mr. Bauer sets up the new electronic voting machines, works as a poll manager and serves as a trouble-shooter.

"I'm a traveler," said Mr. Bauer, who has worked the polls for 20 years. "Wherever they have a hot spot, they send me."

Mr. Bauer said he thinks young people aren't interested in working the polls because the job lacks pizazz.

"They're kind of looking for something exciting to get into," he said.

Some Georgia counties run ads in newspapers to solicit poll workers. Lanier County, in south Georgia, allows Lions Club members to work to raise funds for the club, said Judy Mullis, Lanier County's probate judge and elections superintendent.

"I have also used gifted high school seniors a couple of times," Ms. Mullis said.

Mrs. Bailey has hired students for some jobs and plans to increase their ranks and responsibilities as a result of a 2-year-old state law that allows 16-year-olds to work at the polls. She has worked with the Board of Education to get a youth poll-worker program started.

The elections board would pay the students, and the school system would give them an excused absence for the day.

"Where we think youths would be particularly helpful is instructing people on how to use this voting equipment," she said.

Older people who are not comfortable with computers seem receptive to being taught by young people who have used computers all their lives, Mrs. Bailey said.

"There's a great opportunity there," she said. "It's a wonderful civic experience. It's a great way to get youths involved in the electoral process at an early age. And hopefully, it will instill in them the value that will make them want to continue on, not only working at the polls but being an active participant in elections in general as they go on through life."

ABOUT POLL WORKERS

  • You must be a U.S. citizen and a resident of the county in which you want to work.
  • You must be at least 16 years old.
  • You must be able to read, write and speak English.
  • No person holding public office or candidate for office may serve as a poll worker.
  • An immediate relative of an elected official cannot serve in an election where the relative is a candidate.
  • Base pay is $85 a day; assistant poll managers make $120 a day, and managers of split precincts make $175 a day.
  • For more information, call the Richmond County Board of Elections at 821-2340; in Columbia County, call 868-3355; and in Aiken County, call (803) 642-2030.

    Who's on the ballot

    RICHMOND COUNTY

    Augusta Commission:

    District 2:

    Incumbent Marion Williams

    Freddie Lee Handy

    Charlie Hannah

    District 4:

    Incumbent Richard Colclough (unopposed)

    District 6:

    Incumbent Andy Cheek (unopposed)

    District 8:

    Regina-Renae Bryant

    Robert J. Buchwitz

    Dusty Rhodes

    Jimmy Smith

    District 10:

    Bobby D. Cheeks

    Don A. Grantham

    Cleonard G. "Sonny" Pittman Jr.

    Polling sites in Augusta Commission Districts 1, 4 and 5 will not be open. Sites in Districts 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 will be open.

    Hephzibah City Council:

    To succeed Frank Williams:

    William "Billy" Jesse Carroll Jr.

    A. Frank Williams

    To succeed Robert Buchwitz:

    Peter "PeeWee" Ciccio Jr.

    Blythe City Council:

    Jerry Reeves

    Noel Cartagena

    Ronald L. Hayes

    COLUMBIA COUNTY

    Columbia County Commission

    To succeed Mark Devoti:

    Lee Anderson

    John Bentley

    George James

    Sam Jones

    Rosa Lee Owens

    Grovetown City Council

    To succeed George James:

    Mike Frazier

    Tony Arnold

    Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.