Desperate for Poll Workers

Santa Clara County will pay employees twice if they
Gilroy – The county is so desperately short of poll workers for the Nov. 8 special election that county workers who want to volunteer at the polls will get paid twice for their efforts.

County workers deemed dispensable that day will be allowed to work the polls for the $105 stipend and their regular pay. County Executive Pete Kutras said the election is important enough to sacrifice county staff, despite the headaches in may cause in many offices.

“We believe that citizens staffing polling places is an important part of democracy,” Kutras said. “What we can’t afford is for the polls to be short.”

The use of county staff at polling places was approved by county supervisors several years ago. In the November 2004 election, about 150 workers volunteered on election day.

The county registrar still needs more than 300 people to fill out its roster for Nov. 8. Supervisor Don Gage, who will work at a Morgan Hill polling place, said it’s been especially difficult to find volunteers this year because there is little interest in the election.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s a special election and they’re not going to vote,” Gage said. “If I can’t get people to work, what am I supposed to do? We can’t just say ‘gee, we don’t have enough people.’ “

Gilroy voters will choose three city councilman in November and help decide eight statewide measures. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s four “year of reform” measures would give the governor more power over the state budget, curb union political activity, redraw electoral districts and make it harder for teachers to get tenure.

Support for those Republican-backed measures has broken down along partisan lines. Keene Butcher, chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, said that he’s not sure it’s a good idea to use county workers at the polls, but wants to ensure the election is well-run.

“I think it’s very important that the county support the people as they express their will,” Butcher said. “The most important thing is to have clean, free, fair elections.”

Registrar Jesse Durazo said that polling places will operate smoothly even if they are run with fewer than the target of five people per poll. He said the county has never closed a polling place due to a lack of staff.

“We try to have a few extra clerks to help with language scenarios,” Durazo said. “I don’t anticipate ever closing a polling place because we will have enough election officers.”

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