Dozens of L.A. Communities Still Short on Poll Workers for June Primary

Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger votes under the supervision of poll worker Dhun May in the midterm election on Nov. 2, 2010 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)While candidates and community activists may be trying to get out the vote, Los Angeles County elections officials are more worried about getting out the volunteers.

With less than two weeks before the June primary, dozens of communities countywide are still short on poll workers even as elections officials reach out to residents to fill the gap.

"Community poll workers are essential to fair and open elections," said L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan in a statement. "Without poll workers elections cannot function."

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On Wednesday the registrar's office released a list of communities that still need volunteers, which incidentally included a number of cities and neighborhoods that normally experience high voter turnout rates.

In response to the shortage, elections staff conducted a series of robocalls to recruit more volunteers, said Cecilia Gomez Reyes, a spokesperson for the registrar's office.

"There was about 531 voters that responded to that robocall," Reyes said in a brief telephone interview. The county still faces a shortage, though Reyes could not immediately provide a number, nor could she say what the backup plan was (though she did offer to track down that information, it was the end of the business day Friday).

Part of the reason for the shortage, Reyes said, was the addition of several new languages on election materials. Under the Voting Rights Act, if enough voters speak a language, elections officials must provide support in that language. This year, Los Angeles County will offer written material in Hindi, Khmer (spoken in Cambodia), and Thai. In addition, certain polling stations will be required to provide spoken support for speakers of Guajarati and Bengali, two Asian Indian languages.

In other words, the job of finding volunteers is made harder because the qualifications are more specific.

Another reason for the shortage could be because primaries tend to draw less interest from the voting public than general elections, Reyes said.

At minimum, elections officials are required to have four poll workers at each polling place. Countywide, that equates to about 25,000 poll workers for every major election.

Any registered voter can serve as a poll worker in her own precinct. Poll workers can even receive up to $105 for volunteering on Election Day. That number includes an $80 stipend and $25 for training time. But many people do it for reasons other than the money.

"A lot of these folks do it year after year. They feel like part of their community," Reyes said.

If you are interested in applying to serve on June 5, visit the www.lavote.net or call (800) 815-2666 (Option 7).

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Web Editor for SoCal Connected, KCET's award-winning television newsmagazine. He has worked in just about every medium, with stories appearing on TV, radio, Web, and print. He is also the editor of the Online Journalism Review at ...
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