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Washington Co. needs poll workers

| Thursday, March 6, 2014, 12:12 a.m.

Some voters line up before the polls open at 7 a.m., eyeing chances to be the first to cast ballots.

But if an obscure part of the state voter law would be enforced, the first person in line at a poll could be pressed into duty in the event of insufficient poll workers at a precinct.

E. Wesley Parry III, assistant director of elections for Washington County, laughed when he recalled that little-known part of the 1937 statute.

The county is in need of as many as 50 people to work the county's 184 polling places for the May 20 primary election.

“Some boards are completely empty and others need some help,” Parry said of the various precincts.

Parry said each of the county's 184 precincts must be operated by five poll workers: one judge of elections, a majority inspector, a minority inspector and two clerks.

For example, in the Mid-Mon Valley, California Precinct 1, Monongahela Ward 3 Precinct 1 and Long Branch each has a judge of elections. However, each also needs four other workers.

Charleroi Precinct 6 needs two clerks. And in Union Township Precinct 5 and West Brownsville Precinct 2, there is no one scheduled to work the polls.

Parry said the county is in such need that officials will accept volunteers willing to work outside their home municipalities.

There are needs throughout the county, he said.

“This is a process we go through every election to find enough people to serve at the polls,” Parry said.

Ideally, the judge of elections and the inspectors are elected. But in many precincts, no one runs for those offices. Many are appointed, sometimes not even in their home precincts.

A candidate is required to obtain just 10 signatures on a petition to get his or her name on the ballot to be judge of elections. Candidates for inspector need only five signatures.

Few even go that route, Parry said.

“Most of the people that win, win by write-in, and most of them we cannot get hold of, or they decline, saying, ‘Someone must have written my name in as a joke,'” Parry said.

Initially, inspectors were meant to inspect voting machines to ensure they operate properly. Ideally, the majority inspector was a member of the same party as the judge. The minority inspector would be from the opposing party, Parry said.

Now, inspectors assist in setting up polling places and help any voter who asks for assistance. The clerks do whatever the judge needs them to do.

The poll workers generally work two days a year, although the judge of elections may set up the precinct the night before.

The pay is scant. Each is paid based on the number of voters, generally between $80 and $120 a day, the latter dependent upon a turnout of 500 or more voters.

Parry said the state should increase the pay for poll workers to encourage more people to serve.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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