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Published: December 13, 2001

 
 

Panel Discussion: “Election Reform: A Systematic Business Solution”

SECRETARY PRIEST:  Think of it.  We’re not even allowed, at this point, to ask for proof of citizenship for voter registration.  We’re not allowed to do that under NVRA [National Voter Registration Act].  So for us as local election officials, it would be actually kind of handy to be able to put Social Security number with a name.  We can't do that.  We can't ask for ID.  We can't ask for proof of any – we can't even ask for proof of who you are.

So I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves if we’re talking about a national ID card.

MR. GERENCSER:  Clearly we have a lot of dynamics happening here and it’s hard to predict what will happen in the near term.  But to pick up on a point that Mr. Walker made earlier, of the people, process and technology, people is really one of the key issues.  As I see it, that breaks down into two areas:  the customers - the voters - and the poll workers.

And so the question I throw out to the whole group is, should we come up with either a federalization of poll workers or a professionalization of poll workers.

SECRETARY THORNBURGH:  I wouldn’t mind touching on that one.  I think it’s probably safe to assume I would be opposed to the federalization of poll workers, that I think that would just be fraught with difficulty and problems.

However, we do need to do a much, much better job of training our poll workers.  Part of that is going to come through the standardized set of what are the rules in place on election day, insuring that every precinct, at least to the state level, every precinct within that state is treating every issue the same.  When a voter comes and presents a certain set of problems, if they’re not on the registration list or if they are, they use a different name, whatever the case may be, that every precinct treats that situation the very same.  So we have to work on professionalization of our poll workers.

Another great crisis that we’re going to see, that we are seeing now and we will see in the very near future even more directly is that the average age of our poll workers today is somewhere between 70 and 80, I would guess. We are losing most of our poll workers, and the next generations are not coming up and filling those slots right now.  And so as we continue to lose our poll workers the problems we’re having today are going to become that much more exacerbated.

DR. ORNSTEIN:  This is, I think, a huge problem.  And what I’ve found is that when you talk to local election officials their biggest headache is getting poll workers.  And one of the major reasons for this impetus towards vote by mail and no excuses absentee voting is the headaches of getting poll workers.

I would put more money into poll workers almost than I would into equipment at this point, and I think we have to do it in other and more creative ways.  It’s not going to come through federalization, but there are a lot of things that can be done.  An awful lot of polling places are schools.  The schools get the day off.  We should have a major effort made to get teachers as poll workers, to even have the local school districts give them credit for serving as poll workers.  We ought to relax in a lot of places the rules against having students as poll workers.  There is an army out there of people who I think would be willing to do it if you pay them a little bit or if you find other ways to make them do it.  But we are mired in the past on this one.

 
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