Secretary of state raises important election issue
Before Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted summarily dismisses a proposal from Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to address the persistent problem of poll-worker shortages, he should talk to elections officials around the state.
It does not surprise us that Brunner, a Democrat who has been on the job since the first of the month, received an enthusiastic response to her idea from the Ohio Association of Election Officials. They are the ones who have to meet the statutory requirement of having two Republicans and two Democrats working each precinct on election day.
The average age of a poll worker in Ohio is 72. College age students have shown little interest in committing to work from 6:30 a.m., when the polls open, to 7:30 p.m., when they close, for a stipend of less than 100.
And there aren't enough Ohioans with full-time jobs who can get the day off to work in the precincts.
But it isn't just a matter of a willingness to work. In communities that are dominated by one political party, the challenge is to find enough members of the minority party.
Husted, a Republican, need only discuss this reality with Republican Party leaders in the predominantly Democratic Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Granted, Secretary of State Brunner's proposal is a shock to the senses. She wants the GOP-controlled Ohio Legislature to pass a bill that would authorize the drafting of poll workers.
The proposal got a cool reception from the speaker of the House.
Indeed, until we know all the details of her plan, we aren't willing embrace it. But that does not mean we see no benefit in having this important issue brought before the General Assembly for a bipartisan hearing.
Elections officials from counties that must scramble each election to find enough poll workers to fill all the slots need help. Statewide, Ohio has about 47,000 workers -- just over four per precinct.
And given their average age, no-shows are a common occurrence.
According to the Associated Press, Brunner's proposal envisions prospective poll workers being notified by mail that they must attend two days of training -- the Friday and Monday before an election -- and must work eight hours. Currently, poll workers are in precincts for all 13 hours the polls are open.
Voters who receive notices could get out of serving for just cause -- in much the same way individuals can get out of jury duty.
There's no doubt that the secretary of state's idea pushes the envelop, which is why the initial reaction from Husted was cool.
But Brunner is to be credited for thinking outside the elections box.
Given the negative publicity that surrounded Ohio's conduct of the 2004 presidential election, when the Republican secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, also served as President Bush's campaign co-chairman, there is a sense of urgency to make sure this state isn't again held up to ridicule -- or suspicion -- in the 2008 presidential contest.