Shortage expected as poll workers age

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Josephine Wramp can't remember a time when she didn't work an election.
"I really like it and feel it is my civic duty," said Wramp, 83.
She became a poll worker after getting interested in politics when Ralph Perk ran for Cleveland mayor in 1971. On Nov. 2, she will work at the Snow Road branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.
Boards of elections count on mainstays like Wramp, but poll workers are aging and there are fewer nonworking spouses to take their place. Nationwide, the average age of a poll worker is 72, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Though officials do not expect problems finding workers in November, they believe it is only a matter of years before there are shortages. So they are seeking workers from the private and public sector and schools.
"I don't want to sound crass, but poll workers are passing on," said Michael Sciortino, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections. "And the advent of the new machines might scare workers off."
In Ohio, four people -- two from each political party -- work each precinct. They arrive about 6 a.m., leave about 8 p.m. and are paid $95.
What's being tried
State legislators have recognized the upcoming decline in workers by passing a law that allows state agencies and municipalities to give employees a paid day off if they work the polls.
Bryan Williams, director of the Summit County Board of Elections, is among the first in the state to recruit using the law. Reaction has been mixed.
"You have the initial reaction of why should the public sector pay those people twice to be booth workers," he said.
Williams, who needs around 2,000 poll workers, has also asked private employers to establish a "Loaned Employee for a Day" program. There's been no response yet.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which will employ about 5,000 poll workers in November, is targeting another constituency, said Cynthia Ellis, community outreach program liaison.
She started a pilot program in Parma that had students work the polls as part of high school government classes. More than 800 students from 29 schools worked the March primary.
New workers who show up for the November and future elections will be rubbing elbows with old-timers like Wramp, who says she plans to take classes when the county computerizes voting.
"I'll stick with it," she said.

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