Grant will pay to train poll workers

Project includes sensitivity as well as technical training.
Friday, October 3, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:09 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

Change is in the air for Missouri voters — and poll workers.

In the next few years, touch-screen technology will be required at polling places in all Missouri counties as an option for handicapped voters and anyone else who wants to use it.

With the average age of poll workers at 70, the government is recognizing the need to provide training for poll workers who have limited computer experience.

Under the Help Americans Vote Act, the University of Missouri Outreach and Extension Community Development program has received a 12-month, $730,000 contract to train poll workers statewide.

Diane Kuschel, a state Extension specialist who is coordinating the training, said the education will involve much more than technology. Poll workers will undergo sensitivity training in diversity and disability issues as well as education on civil rights. Other aspects include technical training, ballot security and absentee voting.

While the Boone County Commission has budgetary control, the county clerk will be responsible for choosing new voting technology for Boone County. No standards have been written as to the technology that will be required, and the money has not been appropriated, Clerk Wendy Noren said. It will be the middle of 2005, she said, before any decisions are made.

There has been a shift over the years in who runs the polls, Noren said. While poll workers used to be mostly women who didn’t work, “now everyone works,” Noren said. “The pool we have available to us now is mostly retirees.”

Mack Brushwood, 84, has worked the Boone County polls during every election since he retired in 1985, though he’s bowing out due to his wife’s illness. As a former supervisor at the polls, Brushwood said he could see some room for improvement in the polling process. He said some older people prefer paper ballots.

“Many of the older people were used to just using a pencil, and I think they enjoy that,” he said.

Brushwood said he has his own computer and would be open to learning about new voting technology if he were to continue as a poll worker.

Rebecca Minner, 42, has worked at the polls for four years. Because she still works, she sees the polls as a break from her regular job. Minner said she is open to new voting methods. “Though I didn’t work much with computers in school, I’m willing to learn,” she said.

Besty Byers, co-director of elections for the Missouri Secretary of State, said the learning style of a person will be much more important than the age of the person being trained as a poll worker. On the other hand, she said, “As you get older, you have special needs and I think the outreach program will be able to target and reach those needs.”

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