Poll workers are in short supply

For Jean Johnson, a Peninsula poll volunteer of 13 years, a long day passing out ballots and answering voters' questions could get even longer as San Francisco and San Mateo counties cope with a shortage of precinct workers.

Ideally, precincts are staffed with three workers and one supervisor, but many in San Mateo County will likely depend on just two workers and one supervisor next month, said Johnson, who works as a supervisor. “It's harder to run them with two people because you have to give everyone a one-hour lunch and one-hour dinner break,” she said.

Both counties have called on people in Johnson's position to help recruit friends and convince former poll workers who have not re-enlisted to join the June 6 primary election effort. Volunteers receive a stipend of between $80 and $160 for meals and transportation, officials said.

“It's the first time they've sent out a notice that I can remember,” said Johnson, 61, a San Bruno resident and member of the local League of Women Voters.

While San Francisco has rallied over thelast month to close a worrisome gap in its number of volunteers, officials are still scrambling for more standby workers who can fill in when others cancel, San Francisco Elections Director John Arntz said. Moving the primary to the summer made recruiting more difficult, Arntz said. This is the first time in four years that the primary will be held in June instead of March.

The situation is even more dire in San Mateo County, where it is estimated another 350 workers are needed for full staffing, said David Tom, San Mateo County elections director.

Volunteers who are bilingual in Spanish, Russian, Cantonese and Mandarin are especially needed.

“This year is somewhat unusual because it has finally hit us that many of our poll workers are retiring after several years,” Tom said. Making matters worse, the shortage is compounded by the increased need for poll-worker training to handle machines for the disabled and the large number of ballots, at least 10 various types, required for a primary, he said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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