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County is seeking election help

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - Updated: 3:46 PM


For the C-S-E

FONDA -- To address the ongoing shortage of workers on Election Day in November, Montgomery County officials have started a recruiting campaign seeking "Guardians of the Ballot."

Montgomery County spokesman Andrew Santillo said that while steps have been taken in previous years to address the issue, the goal this year is to put together a concerted effort that involves county employees and local employers to tackle the issue at election time.

"We need a lot of people to make sure that things are running smoothly and there isn't going to be a wait time when they get to their place to vote," Santillo said.

The county has plans to encourage employers to make opportunities for Election Day worker service available to their employees. The success of such a program depends on community support, he said.

"It may look good for the company if 10 or 15 employees go and give back this way," Santillo said, adding that county employees are also being recruited.

"The county is encouraging county department heads to inform employees that since they have the day off," he said. "What better way to give back?"

Election Day workers must administer at the polling place and provide information as necessary to the voters. Worker shortages are one of the leading concerns of the Board of Elections and recruitment for these workers is a persistent challenge.

According to Board of Elections Commissioner Terrance Smith, the county needs approximately 168 workers, also known as election inspectors, to adequately work at the polls during election time, a number that is rarely achieved.

The problem, he said, is that state statute requires all election workers to be registered voters in Montgomery County with an affiliated party, limiting the pool of candidates.

In addition, the statute requires each political party to be represented in each district. Each of the 42 election districts in the county must have four inspectors -- two representing the Republican party and two representing the Democrat party, he said.

"If you just had that [168] number, which we never do, and someone calls in sick or something, we have to have extras to try to cover that," Smith said. "But, again, we never reach the numbers."

Smith said the county is trying to get the law changed to require that a "sufficient number" of workers representing each party are at a site.

"When I first took this position, we had 48 election districts. Since the legislative districts came out we brought that number down to the 42 districts and we can reduce it by more," he said. "At the same time we can consolidate some of the poll sites but there is a domino effect on how it affects the party committees and the voters in where they go vote. We don't want to just do this."

The other challenge in recruiting workers is that most people work on Election Day -- a Tuesday. Many can't work the 17-hour day.

However, recent changes have been in the statute allowing the Board of Elections to use people for half-day shifts, making it easier for some.

"It may help us do more to initiate people," Smith said. "Yet to do something like that we need even more people because I will only have half a person."

Election Law has also been changed to allow high school students, who are 17 years of age and fulfilling their education requirements, to perform the duties of an election inspector or poll clerk. Last year, as an exercise in civic education and for class credit, students from Fonda-Fultonville and Amsterdam high schools participated, with success.

"We are going to reach out and try to set up meeting and/or presentations with senior groups and at the college to let them know we have a need," Smith said.

Smith said that all county election workers are paid for the day.

To become an election inspector, a person must first be a registered voter in Montgomery County, and secondly, attend and pass a training session yearly.

For more information, call the Board of Elections at 853-8180.


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