Benton County sees election worker shortage

BENTONVILLE -- A shortage of poll workers could lead to a reduction in voter centers for the Nov. 8 election, with longer waiting times likely to follow, Benton County election officials said.

The Election Commission discussed the issue Thursday afternoon. Kim Dennison, election coordinator, told the commission the county had 45 vote centers for the March 1 primary election. One of those is being closed for other reasons, she said, leaving the county to staff 44 centers.

Election work

Applications for anyone interested in becoming a poll worker in Benton County are available online under the Election Commission tab on the county’s website at www.bentoncountyar.…. More information about becoming a poll worker can be obtained by calling the commission office at 479 271-1049.

Source: Benton County

The county needs 354 poll workers to staff the vote centers based on the primary election, she said. There were 264 people signed up for the Nov. 8 election as of Thursday.

"This is very serious," commission member John Brown Jr. said of the need for more poll workers.

The county normally loses some poll workers every year, but the turnover has been larger this year, Dennison said.

"The long days are hard on them," she said.

The increased use of technology prompted some poll workers to leave, Dennison said. Vote centers require the use of electronic poll books so workers can check voter registration information from the entire county, not just by precinct.

"Our first time to use the electronic poll books for check-in was the primary," Dennison said. "They all had training, but we lost from 40 to 50 poll workers at that point because they just didn't want to use them. They weren't comfortable with them, they liked the paper books we used by precinct voting. But we can't go to vote centers without the electronic poll books."

State law sets a minimum of five poll workers at any vote center, according to the commission staff. Five is adequate at county locations where smaller numbers of voters are expected. Other vote centers need as many as 10 or 11 workers to handle the number of voters, staff said.

The commission agreed an outreach effort, appealing for people to become poll workers, will be made to area civic groups and other organizations.

Chairman Russ Anzalone said the commission also will contact high schools in the county to try and recruit students to take over some duties. Washington County has been successful in getting student workers in a similar program, Anzalone said. A decision on the number of vote centers needs to be finalized by Sept. 1.

"If we don't get what we need, we may have to close some vote centers," Anzalone said. "I'm sure we'll get some, but I'm not sure we'll get all we need."

The commission hasn't considered discontinuing the use of vote centers because they were well-received by voters during the primary election, Dennison said.

"We've had a lot of compliments on the vote centers and no real complaints," she said. "So it's never even been discussed."

NW News on 08/19/2016

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