Government

Linn County needs poll workers

Auditor hires temporary recruiter to help hire 600 needed Nov. 6

Valerie Smith, elections outreach coordinator for Linn County, sets up booths for early voting in a March special election at the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids. Linn County has hired a temporary recruiter to help it hire the roughly 600 poll workers needed for the Nov. 6 general election. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Valerie Smith, elections outreach coordinator for Linn County, sets up booths for early voting in a March special election at the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids. Linn County has hired a temporary recruiter to help it hire the roughly 600 poll workers needed for the Nov. 6 general election. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — With Linn County’s poll workers aging and facing increased technological demands and public scrutiny, elections officials are struggling to find enough people to staff the polls during elections.

To secure the roughly 600 poll workers needed for the upcoming Nov. 6 general election — with more than 100,000 voters expected — Linn County has hired its first recruiter.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said poll workers in the past often have been longtime volunteers or were recruited through word-of-mouth.

“Really, our best recruiters are the people that are working, that’s where we’ve gotten a lot of referrals, but I think we’ve exhausted that ... we need to cast our net wider and try to pull in some additional people to fulfill this civic duty,” Miller said.

Donna Craft, who started earlier this month as the county’s temporary recruiter, was hired to help find the five to nine workers needed for each of the county’s 86 precincts.

Craft said she has been visiting community organizations and churches to recruit prospects. Election volunteers are paid — $200 a day plus mileage — but have to work from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., she said.

“That can be a pretty long day,” she said.

Rebecca Stonawski, Linn County deputy commissioner of elections, said one reason poll workers are becoming more difficult to find is their age. Many who help with elections duties are retired.

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What’s more, the growing use of technology at polling places — the county recently started using electronic poll books — adds challenges for older poll workers who might not be computer-savvy.

“We really have to make sure people can do basic computer skills,” Stonawski said. “It is getting more technical.”

Johnson County

In Johnson County, Carrie Nierling, deputy auditor of elections, said the county has had a good supply of poll workers since it made a major recruitment push before the 2016 election.

However, Nierling said one major challenge is finding enough Republicans to keep precincts bipartisan.

Per Iowa Code, one political party cannot exceed a simple majority in a precinct, so if there are five poll workers, at least two have to be Republican if the remaining three are Democrats.

That can be a challenge in a county like Johnson, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one.

“As far as recruiting goes, we are always struggling to find enough Republicans,” Nierling said.

To Become a Pollworker

To Qualify

• Must be registered to vote

• Cannot be a felon

• Cannot have a direct relative on the ballot in an opposed race

• Be able to read, listen, have legible handwriting, give clear spoken instructions

• Be able to accurately implement election laws and complete basic computer tasks

• Must attend a paid two- to six-hour class

Responsibilities

• Provide customer service

• Be able to work long hours

• Set up voting equipment and polling place before polls open

• Make sure those voting are qualified to vote

• Close polling place

• Complete paperwork and clean up polling space

More Info

Linn County: Email elections@linncounty.org or call (319) 892-5300; apply online at linncounty.org/402 or mail application to Linn County Election Services, 935 Second St. SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404

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Johnson County: Email elections@co.johnson.ia.us or call (319) 356-6004; apply online at johnson-county.com/dept_auditor_elections.aspx?id-21949 or mail an application to Johnson County Auditor’s Office, 913 S. Dubuque St. Suite 101, Iowa City, IA 52240

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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