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Kimble: Youths bolster county’s poll workers

Having young people working the polls will be a major change. Most poll  workers are retired; the federal Election Assistance Commission says  the average age of poll workers is 72.

Having young people working the polls will be a major change. Most poll workers are retired; the federal Election Assistance Commission says the average age of poll workers is 72.

When it comes to recruiting poll workers, Baltimore elections officials are desperate.

“As long as they are breathing and they can walk in, we have to take them,” Baltimore’s director of elections told USA TODAY: “The people we hire for the most part are elderly, uneducated and frequently unemployed.”

Baltimore isn’t alone. There is a nationwide shortage of poll workers – a shortage that has reached crisis proportions in most areas of the country.

But this is one crisis that has bypassed Pima County, with “phones ringing off the hook” with calls from people wanting to snap up the one-day jobs.

One reason is an innovative 2-year-old state law that allows teens to work at the polls – even if they are not old enough to vote.

The Nov. 4 general election is supposed to be the busiest ever in Arizona. There are more than 2.7 million registered voters in the state, and Secretary of State Jan Brewer estimates 2 million will vote. Many will cast early ballots, but the polls still will be packed.

Having young people working the polls will be a major change. Most poll workers are retired; the federal Election Assistance Commission says the average age of poll workers is 72.

Working at the polls is not easy. In Arizona, voting is conducted from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition to working the entire 13 hours, workers have to get to the polls early and leave late, often putting in 15 hours.

The pay starts at $140 for the day – about $9.30 per hour for a 15-hour day. The inspector – the person in charge of each polling place – is paid $185 but has added responsibilities, including making sure ballots are turned in to collection points.

There is one serious downside to being a poll worker: Once they are on the job, they can’t leave the building. At all. Not even to get something to eat.

Brad Nelson, Pima County elections director, said workers at polling places in schools sometimes have food brought to them from the cafeteria. Others have pizza delivered or plan a potluck lunch.

So it’s not surprising that there is a nationwide shortage of about 500,000 poll workers. And even if enough workers are found, many don’t show up on Election Day.

For every 3 workers trained, 2 don’t come to work on the only day they are needed, The New York Times reported.

But Nelson says there will be plenty of people available to work Pima County’s 373 polling places for the primary and general elections.

There have been a couple of short articles in local newspapers mentioning the available jobs, and that has “our phones ringing off the hook,” he said.

Among those seeking the jobs are 16- and 17-year-olds – youths too young to vote but allowed to work at the polls under a 2006 state law. With the OK of their parents, teens can get an excused absence from school to work at the polls, Nelson said.

“We’re gaining more and more of those all the time,” he added.

Although Pima County apparently has enough workers, that’s not the case elsewhere in Arizona.

The Secretary of State’s Office is running recruiting ads in newspapers, using the slogan, “For the candidates to serve, we need you to serve.”

Kevin Tyne, deputy secretary of state, said recruitment of poll workers “has certainly been a problem in many if not most of the counties.”

To recruit people, the office is sending staff members into malls across Arizona. They’ll be at Park Place mall Aug. 16.

Brewer also is pushing a Corporate Challenge program in which major employers, including Arizona State University, Wal-Mart, Target and Qwest, are giving employees a day off – sometimes with pay – to serve as poll workers.

If you’re interested in the job, call 351-6865 or 351-6866. It’s bound to be interesting work.

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. Reach him at mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4662.

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