Quiz time: You’re an Election Day poll worker in Lexington County. The ballot is more than a dozen pages long, the voting lines equally daunting. Do you pass the time by discussing candidates and referendums with the voters?
Answer: “Don’t you dare,” said Dean Crepes, the county’s election director, speaking to several dozen poll workers at a training session this week.
Some 850 to 900 poll workers are gearing up for the Nov. 4 election – about 200 more than in previous general elections and almost a third of them first-timers. They’re expecting a slow voting pace across the county thanks to a ballot that’s twice as long as usual. It features an outline of more than 90 projects related to the countywide penny-on-the-dollar sales tax issue. It’s also the first major election when workers will be checking voter IDs.
“It’ll be a good experience,” said 18-year-old Lenay Lovell, a first-time poll worker from Gaston. “It should be easy once you get hands-on with it.”
A 90-minute training session, a hefty take-home handbook and, for the first time, a post-training test are helping to prepare the workers for situations such as how to properly open and close the polls, how to handle a voter who lacks a valid photo ID and what to do when someone tarries at the voting machine.
Poll workers will have their hands full: Voter turnout is expected to be much higher than usual.
About two thirds of the county’s 160,000 registered voters are expected to turn out. Almost 7,500 people already have voted absentee, including about 3,000 walk-in voters at the elections office, where there have been no problems so far, Crepes said.
State law says voters are to remain in the voting booth no longer than three minutes. That could be challenging for some voters scrolling through as many as 16 ballot pages, including the five-page penny sales tax referendum.
To try to alleviate the amount of time spent in the booth, poll workers will be offering handouts to people in line so they can review the ballot information ahead of time. And, to keep the lines moving, if a person seems to be spending more than five minutes or so in the booth, Crepes told his poll workers to ask whether they might offer assistance.
“I haven’t had that problem here (at the elections office) absentee voting, so I don’t think I’m going to have that problem at the precincts,” Crepes said.
In addition to 645 voting machines at the county’s 96 precincts, the elections office also has about 10 extra machines that can be deployed to precincts if the wait times get out of hand or if there are any mechanical problems. By the end of the day on the last general election, all of the reserve machines had been used, Crepes said.
Aside from some long waits, Crepes isn’t expecting difficulties, even with the photo ID requirement. Any voter who claims to have a “reasonable impediment” for not having a photo ID will be dealt with at a resolution table off to the side so as not to impede the voting process, Crepes said.
Eight phone lines will be open at the elections office for poll workers to call in with any problems, and 14 roving troubleshooters will be available for on-site assistance.
The county is spending between $110,000 and $115,000 on its poll workers, about $25,000 more than in past elections.
The most important thing for the workers to keep in mind on Election Day, Crepes said, is that they’re there to help the voters.
“You can go out of your way to help them in any way you can,” he said. “Just don’t tell them how to vote.”