Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

Poll sitting

September 29, 2005

As Alyce King walked in the door of the Starside Elementary School commons area Tuesday, Kathy Ross greeted her with a hug.

It was an unlikely way for a poll worker to greet a voter. But soon Ross was all business, showing King where she needed to sign to vote in Tuesday's special election.

It was Ross' second time as an election worker, and her first in De Soto.

Countywide turnout for the election was 12 percent. At the polls, only 47 voters had made it to the polls by early afternoon. That gave Ross and the three other poll workers -- Jane Rosenstangle, Tom Hatton and supervisor Emil Urbanek -- lots of downtime.

"It's a long day," Hatton said. "It's certainly longer when nobody is here."

Urbanek, with five years of poll working experience, said Tuesday was the slowest election he'd worked.

The Johnson County Election Office needed 1,100 poll workers for Tuesday's election, Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby said. For larger general elections, that number expands to near 1,500, he said.

Tuesday's election will be the last until next April, when a few county cities will have elections for city government. That shouldn't require many poll workers, but Newby said he couldn't be complacent.

"You never know," he said. "The county might put a question on the ballot that requires a countywide election."

In preparation, the election office is always casting its net to find and train poll workers, Newby said.

As bait, the election office pays poll workers $80 for their day at the polls and $15 for mandatory training, Newby said. Election supervisors get $15 more, he said.

Money is a motivation, but Rosenstangle said a sense of civic duty played a role in her decision to work the polls.

"I think it helps a little bit," she said.

With little traffic Tuesday, the job looked easy. But Newby said that was deceiving.

Each election is unique, Newby said. Tuesday's election was the first stand-alone special election the county has conducted in 17 years. It required his office to shift polling places and make other adjustments that frustrated some voters, who made that frustration known to poll workers, he said.

Also, the light turnout and switched polling places meant poll workers handed out more provisional ballots than busy elections would allow, Newby said. It takes an election or two to become comfortable with procedures, he said.

Ross and Urbanek said they found that to be true. Ross wanted to work in De Soto in the November 2004 general election, her first, but was sent to a polling place in Olathe's Cedar Creek.

To keep up with the demand, the election office recruits high school students, Newby said. More than 40 Mill Valley High School students helped Tuesday, he said.

The election office has an "Adopt a Polling Place" program as a fund-raiser for non-profits, Newby said. Members work the polls and donate the money to their organization. Newby said the election office would soon be set up to send the check directly to the non-profit organization.

The name is something of a misnomer, Newby said, because the need for training usually doesn't allow members of one organization to man one polling place.

To learn more about poll working opportunities, visit the Johnson County Election Office's Web site at http://www.jocoelection.org/ or call (913) 782-3441.

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