Government

Profile: Donna Craft works to staff Linn County elections

Donna Craft, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who was hired earlier this year as Linn County’s first poll worker recruiter/trainer makes telephone calls to recruit poll workers for the Nov. 6 election from the basement of the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The county needs about 500 poll workers to operate the county’s 79 polling locations representing 86 precincts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Donna Craft, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who was hired earlier this year as Linn County’s first poll worker recruiter/trainer makes telephone calls to recruit poll workers for the Nov. 6 election from the basement of the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The county needs about 500 poll workers to operate the county’s 79 polling locations representing 86 precincts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Earlier this summer, Donna Craft, who has more than three decades of experience in finance and business, took on a somewhat unfamiliar challenge — secure enough poll workers for Linn County’s upcoming midterm election.

Craft, 77, started working in July as Linn County’s first recruiter tasked with securing enough precinct election officials — five to nine for each of the county’s 86 precincts — to staff the Nov. 6 general election.

By mid-August, the county had amassed more than 500 poll workers, enough to cover the election.

Craft said the trick to getting more than 350 new poll worker applications was getting out into the community — tapping into her established networks and stopping at churches, union groups and political party meetings — to meet with people face to face.

“I think most of the time, when you’re talking to people and having a person-to-person conversation, you can get a better rapport established and convince them they need to do something rather than sending an email,” Craft said.

Like many counties across Iowa, Linn County faces a growing challenge to find enough poll workers to manage elections. The challenge is made all the more difficult as Iowa’s precinct election officials grow older and the job becomes more complex.

More than 75 percent of Iowa’s poll workers were 61 or older in 2016, according to an analysis of 74 participating counties by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Every county that responded to the survey said more than half their poll workers were older than 60.

Based on the counties that reported, less than 2 percent of the poll workers were 25 or younger.

For Craft, who used to work with Transamerica and Berthel Fisher in supervisory roles, finding enough participants was almost second nature.

“I’m a people person. I like working with people,” she said.

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Now that precinct election officials have been secured, Craft said the next step is orientation and establishing precinct chairs and solutions people — who handle Election Day registrations or updates.

Craft’s work will continue with the county through the election. She said she plans to help with training and getting votes at area health care centers, where voters are unable to leave.

After that, Craft, who is president of the Optimists Club of Marion and Cedar Rapids, said she’ll return to focusing on volunteer efforts.

“It seems like I’ve always got more on my plate than I can handle, but that’s OK because I like to keep busy,” she said.

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

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