In the middle of an industrial area off Cheyenne Avenue in North Las Vegas, where rush-hour traffic streams past a mix of empty dirt lots and sleek office complexes taking up chunks of city blocks, one of our most treasured institutions sits and waits.
At least for now.
Inside a cavernous warehouse, Clark County’s 4,500 portable voting machines are stacked 18 feet high in what looks like the world’s largest collection of carry-on suitcases. A sea of carts with folding tables and office supplies, and tall wire bins with tangles of bright orange or yellow extension cords sit nearby.
Soon, this giant collection of machines and supplies will be used to create polling places throughout the county — from Mesquite to Laughlin to urban Las Vegas. They will be set up in malls, libraries, community centers, government buildings, schools and trailers transformed into mobile voting centers, all to help ensure that every voter has a chance to be heard.
But, of course, it would be for naught without the paid volunteers who help to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
The county needs 2,000 workers to man the 264 polling stations this election season and is currently recruiting. While many of the workers will be pulled from a database of those who have been hired in the past, there are still plenty of openings, according to Clark County Election Program Supervisor Maria Tsarouhas. In fact, because of issues such as illness and retention, the county will need closer to 3,000 potential workers.
This year’s election season includes the primary on June 12 and the general election on Nov. 6. But in addition to the actual election days, workers will be needed to staff polling places over the course of the early-voting periods, which last for about two weeks. Early voting this year takes place May 26–June 8 for the primary and Oct. 20–Nov. 2 for the general election.
Because the general election includes the presidential contest, the polling places are expected to be busier this year compared to typical voting seasons, so “we always need a lot of people during the general election,” Tsarouhas said.
One of the biggest needs, in fact, is for bilingual workers. The county’s election supervisors will be recruiting 350 temporary employees who can speak both English and Spanish, as well as 35 workers who are fluent in Tagalog. This is in order to accommodate natives of the Philippines, a population that has grown in Clark County based on the last census, according to Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax.
The county will be recruiting new bilingual workers as well as bringing back former volunteers.
Graciela Pedraza, a retired costumer-service employee for a phone company in Florida, has been a bilingual election volunteer since 2001. She works during early voting and on the day of the general election, basically floating from station to station to answer voters’ questions about everything from how to check in, to how to operate the voting machines.
As a bilingual worker it’s important to have good verbal skills, but spelling skills can be important as well, she said. There are times a person’s name has to be looked up on a computer or in the register, and in Nevada voters are not required to show identification, she said.
Depending on the polling site, there may be one or two voters she helps the entire day, while at other times there may be at least two voters every hour who need assistance, she said. Pedraza notes that she has seen an increase in the number of Hispanic voters at the polls, and those who need her help are often older.
While every polling place is different, and she has worked at ones all over the valley, Pedraza said it always feels like she is making a difference and fulfilling an important “civic duty.”
“I think it’s simply that you enjoy doing it, not just to occupy your time. It’s something that you know is important. It’s a privilege. It’s rewarding to see they appreciate you when they’re there, too,” she said.
In order to be considered for the election jobs, one has to be 18 years of age or older and a U.S. citizen, and cannot be a candidate for nomination or election, or be related to someone who is.
Computer skills and experience in customer service are definite pluses, but they are not required for the positions. Tsarouhas notes that while many of the election workers are often senior citizens, workers’ ages and backgrounds vary. The county has partnered with high schools, for example, to hire students who met the age requirement.
On the Clark County Election Department website, it also is pointed out that poll workers should be able to work as part of a team, have access to reliable transportation, have a professional demeanor and be able to understand and follow the required Clark County election procedures that are discussed during training.
Also, those who work on an actual election day must be able to endure a work day that averages about 14 hours.
Those who are hired are basically paid volunteers, as opposed to permanent employees. The pay is $120 for one day of work during the primary on June 12 or the general election on Nov. 6. Workers who man the early-voting polling places, on the other hand, generally work two 40-hour work weeks at a pay rate of $8.25 an hour, Tsarouhas said.
Whether someone works early voting, election days or both depends on a volunteer’s availability and where the county needs to fill positions.
This year’s cycle of training classes for poll workers begins in April and takes place at the election headquarters in North Las Vegas. For those living in outlying communities such as Moapa Valley, Mesquite, Boulder City and Laughlin, the county actually sets up training sites in their areas, Tsarouhas said.
The training lasts a few hours and covers skills such as checking in voters via laptop computer or registration book and helping voters understand how to use the voting machines or even what to do once they have cast their ballots.
Those who are assigned to the early-voting sites, which are spread throughout the valley, may have to travel to different polling places during the two-week period, although the county does try to assign election sites that are close to a worker’s residence, if possible, Tsarouhas said. Early voting is set up in places such as libraries, malls, community centers and grocery stores.
The voting trailers are stationed in parking lots and usually stay in one location for four to five days before moving to the next location. During the general election, tents will be set up behind the trailers to accommodate extra voting machines.
What workers have to keep in mind is that the quarters in the trailers are more cramped than other early-voting locations, and during warmer seasons the air-conditioning units can only do so much, Tsarouhas said. The county, she added, is always looking for those with mechanical skills such as the ability to operate a generator to help staff the voting trailers.
While the bulk of the work is at the polling places, dozens of workers are also needed to answer phones at the county’s election office on the actual election days. They answer voters’ questions about issues such as where their voting precinct is located. During the 2004 general election day, the office received more than 35,000 calls, Lomax said.
There is also a cadre of workers who process mail-in ballots during the week prior to the actual election days, including making sure voters’ ballot choices are read correctly by the tabulation machines. The job lasts about five working days, can require a lot of stamina and suits those who are more detail-oriented, Lomax said.
Both the volunteers who answer the phones and those who process the mail-in ballots receive special training for those specific jobs.
Of course, one of the benefits of election work is that even though it’s temporary work, there are plenty of election cycles.
Ron and Barbara Schuster, of Boulder City, have been election workers since 1996 and usually staff the early-voting site at the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson during the biannual federal elections. While Ron Schuster admits to “not being of the computer era,” he was trained by the county to conduct voter verification and voter check-in via computer.
“I don’t know every county department. If they’re as good as the election department, they’ve got a good county going. … It’s a very, very polished system,” he said.
His wife, Barbara Schuster, also checks in voters at the Galleria polling site but, unlike Ron, also works on election day at a precinct in Boulder City. As an interesting side note, she used to volunteer her time to drive down to the Strip and register employees to vote at some of the large casinos, including workers on the graveyard shifts. She did it for about 12 years and estimates that she registered 300 to 400 employees.
Community service, in fact, is one of the major reasons the Schusters, who are both 79, work the elections. They also have become friends with some of their fellow poll workers over the years, and the little bit of extra income is always a nice bonus.
“So overall, it’s a plus, plus, plus in every facet. You’re working with nice people and it’s a very coordinated thing, and you’re helping your community out,” Ron Schuster said.
Those wishing to apply for the Clark County election positions can call 455-2815 or go to http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/Depts/election/Pages/EBO.aspx.