Poll workers train for a one-day job

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It’s a perfect fall afternoon on the Saturday before Halloween, and the Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church is full of folding chairs and people of all ages. In just a few days, these people will be the first faces you see greeting you at the polls, as they will spend a nearly 15-hour day as election officers in Santa Clara County.

The Oct. 26 training was just one of several three-hour sessions offered to seasonal election officers by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 balloting. A 90-minute training is offered for more seasoned election officers who have volunteered for previous elections.

While the election officers receive a stipend of up to $200, and $15 more if they are able to offer bilingual services, their work goes beyond an average 9-to-5 day. When the first ballot is cast at 7am Nov. 6 at Santa Clara County polling places, the dedicated election officers have already been there for an hour.

Election officers in Santa Clara County come from all walks of life: retirees, full-time professionals, stay-at-home mothers, enthusiastic immigrants and more. They must be 18 or older, or 16 with a parent and principal’s consent. They don’t even need to be registered voters to participate, although it is recommended.

Wendy Hudson, county election division coordinator of public and legislative affairs, said she thinks the allure of giving back to their communities inspires people to volunteer as election officers.

“I don’t think it’s about money,” said Hudson. “I think it’s about civic duty.”

Elenita Rudholm, who works for the election office in the precinct operation training department, agrees with Hudson. Rudholm led the Saturday training, and dozens of others like it around the county the past several weeks.

In between informational videos and small group hands-on sessions, Rudholm quizzed the future officers.

“What time do the polls open on election day?” Rudholm asked the group.

“Seven!” they replied.

“When do you get there?”

“Six!”

Rudholm is in awe of the election officers who have volunteered their time. She said their stories have made all of her work worth it. “It’s fantastic,” Rudholm said. She described the different election officers who approach her following their training—some longtime poll workers, others newly sworn in citizens of the United States and first time voters.

That’s her favorite thing about those who volunteer: “The collective stories of the people that come to our training.”

On election day, Rudholm’s position will change. She’ll be back in the Santa Clara office working the help line for election officers all over the county.

If the election officers encounter any trouble that day, they’ll call Rudholm and her colleagues at the (408) 299-POLL hotline.

At every polling place there are at least five election officers: four clerks and one inspector. The inspector is usually a veteran election officer who wants to take on the larger role as the point person at the precinct.

Hudson said the election office hires 20 percent more officers than necessary, in case there are officers who don’t show up to their designated precinct and the standby officers need to be called.

More election officers are still needed, especially bilingual officers. Hudson said, “We are still in need of four total Syriac bilinguals in San Jose. Eleven total Persian bilinguals are needed in San Jose, Cupertino and Santa Clara. Eleven total Russian bilinguals are needed in San Jose, Palo Alto and Mountain View. The rest of the need is approximately 85 Spanish bilinguals and they are needed in Morgan Hill, Santa Teresa, Monterey area, South San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara and Campbell.”

Anyone interested can call 408-918-9140, as the remaining training sessions are filling up, with the last session on Nov. 3.

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