September 8, 2008 - Poll worker ranks boosted // VOTING : Counties recruit lots of election -day staffers with high voter turnout expected
Paper: Press-Enterprise, The ( Riverside, CA)
Title: Poll worker ranks boosted // VOTING : Counties recruit lots of election -day staffers with high voter turnout expected
Date: September 8, 2008
Author: LAURIE LUCAS, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
Thanks to new outreach programs and more aggressive recruiting strategies, San Bernardino and Riverside counties expect to reach their goals for poll workers and polling places to deal with expected record voter turnouts in November.
"We're in excellent shape," said Art Tinoco, elections coordinator for Riverside County's registrar of voters.
Two months before the presidential election, Riverside County has 676 confirmed polling places of the 721 needed, and 2,785 of the 4,326 poll officers required.
San Bernardino County by Wednesday had nailed 552 of the 580 or 590 polling locations projected and 2,781 poll workers, only 216 shy of the goal.
"We're pulling out all the stops," said Kari Verjil, San Bernardino County's registrar of voters. "We have not found any method that didn't work."
Both counties began scrambling months ago to land workers and venues because officials predict exceptionally high voter turnouts ranging from 75 to 80 percent. That translates into more than 500,000 people voting in each county Nov. 4 for either the Republican ticket of Sen. John McCain-Gov. Sarah Palin, or the Democratic slate of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden.
Obama is the Democratic Party's first black presidential nominee and Palin is the GOP's first woman vice presidential nominee.
"It's a popular election and people really want to be part of history," Tinoco said.
Voter turnouts in the past two presidential elections were considered high by officials. Riverside County had about 70 percent turnout in both 2000 and 2004. San Bernardino County had 67 percent in 2000 and 72 percent in 2004. In contrast, each county had about 2,500 paid volunteers in the 2004 election.
To ramp up poll-worker recruitment, both counties mounted new outreach programs, launched intensive phone, mailer and e-mail campaigns, and upped their speaking engagements.
"You have to be creative," said Kathi Payne, elections analyst for San Bernardino County's registrar.
The registrar is recruiting through the local cable show, at community events such as the 19th annual Stater Bros. Route 66 Rendezvous, at Rancho Cucamonga Quakes' games and at 15 high schools, where they address government and American History classes.
A new program called Partners in Democracy has drawn a huge response from churches, service groups and businesses to fully staff 37 polling places, Verjil said.
The financial incentive is a big draw, with the experienced poll workers known as inspectors receiving more money than the officers, also referred to as clerks. The pay ranges from $15 to $30 to attend two-hour training sessions next month and from $115 to $175 for Election Day services. The stipends are comparable in Riverside County.
Elizabeth Berg, 63, is among six volunteers drafted for Nov. 4 from the PTA of Sierra Lakes Elementary School in Fontana. "Times are tough for money," Berg said. The volunteers plan to donate their combined $885 stipend to their organization.
San Bernardino's other new program will tap student poll workers from five area colleges, Verjil said.
"For the last 3 1/2 years we've had great success with the high school students," she said. "They like that paycheck. And the experienced workers love having them on board."
Riverside County's Tinoco said students must be at least 16 with a grade-point of average of 2.5 or higher. They earn $20 for training plus $90 for Election Day. The staff gives 15 to 20 presentations in high schools and social clubs to drum up interest, because the county is increasing its number of poll workers from four to six at each site.
The average age ranges from 60 to 65, according to Tinoco. Both counties call a roster of past volunteers, who usually comprise half of the poll workers. One of the most reliable, Riverside resident Lucy Tello, 69, has been at it for 31 years. She's already put up her flags around her Woodcrest home, the polling site for her precinct.
"I look forward to seeing the same faces," she said. "I love people. Here we go again."
San Bernardino County has depended on Darwin Helmer, 69, of Loma Linda, since 1989. "It's better to be busy at the polls than waiting around," he said. "People buy us donuts. I wouldn't want to miss meeting people and helping the country."
Both registrars also encourage county employees to volunteer. Riverside County can count on 250 to 300 participants, said Tinoco, and 300 county employees have signed up in San Bernardino County, Verjil said.
Another challenge is scoping out venues for voting . Proper lighting, air conditioning and parking are important, officials said. San Bernardino County avoids using private homes, but Tinoco said Riverside County will make exceptions.
Some of the more unusual sites are mortuaries, clubhouses within gated communities and auto dealerships. Churches are in; schools have fallen out of favor because of security problems.
A favorite location is the Hometown Buffet off McKinley Street in Corona.
"Workers love it," Tinoco said. "They get breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Reach Laurie Lucas at 951-368-9569 or llucas@PE.com
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Voter turnout for November's presidential election might shatter records, so the registrars of voters for Riverside and San Bernardino counties are seeking additional poll workers. High school students and registered voters are eligible.
For Riverside County, call 951-486-7341 or 1-877-663-9006
For San Bernardino County, call 909-387-8300 or 1-800-881-VOTE
Edition: NORTH; ALL ZONES
Record Number: 842394
Copyright (c) 2008 The Press-Enterprise Co