Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman isn’t mincing any words.
“I guess it’s like anything else. There are feast and famine times,” Freeman said this week. “This is one of our famine times.”
She was not talking food. It’s people — specifically, precinct workers — who are in short supply at the Election Board. Freeman said she needs 200 more precinct workers to man the polls before the Nov. 14 election rolls around.
Death, sickness, retirement and the natural ebb and flow of precinct worker sign-ups hit the Election Board hard last year, Freeman said.
“All of a sudden, it just seems — it was after the presidential election — it took a big dip,” she said.
Tulsa County has 262 election precincts. State law requires that at least three precinct workers — a judge, an inspector and a clerk — be assigned to each polling station. When provisional voting officers are assigned to a precinct, the number increases.
The math is complicated by the fact that the judge and clerk assigned to a precinct must be from different political parties.
Carolyn Johnson, the Election Board’s precinct official coordinator, said she has a list of about 1,000 active precinct workers but that she cannot count on all of them to be available for any given election.
“You never know. Some of them get sick on Election Day. Some of them can’t make it for whatever reason,” she said. “So it is important that we have people that are readily available on standby who are trained.”
Toward that end, the Election Board is holding 10 training classes in October for people interested in becoming a precinct worker. The classes are from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave.
Individuals will be paid $25 to attend the training session.
Precinct workers must be at least 18 years old and a registered voter in Tulsa County. The Election Board asks for a minimum one-year commitment.
“It is a tough gig. It truly is,” Freeman said. “But these precinct workers are the most valuable part of the Election Board because without them, we can’t function. They are really precious people, too.”
As it turns out, the vast majority of those “precious people” are older people. Johnson said the average age of a Tulsa County Election Board precinct worker is 75. The oldest precinct worker is 94 years old and has been at it for 22 years. The youngest is 20 and began work in 2016.
“I will say that the older generation is really committed to their civic duty as precinct officials,” Johnson said. “And we have tried students, and we still reach out to students. But they have a tendency, on Election Day, if they have a test, to study for that test and not work the election and say they have a conflict of interest.
“(But) we are still reaching out.”
It’s not an easy job. Precinct workers must stay at their assigned polling stations as long as the polls are open, which is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Precinct inspectors are responsible for delivering the results to the Election Board after the polls close.
Precinct work is not for those looking to get rich. Precinct inspectors are paid $97 per election plus mileage. Precinct judges and clerks receive $87 per election and can sometimes qualify for mileage.
Although 100 people have already signed up for one of the October training classes, Freeman and Johnson say they are far from feeling comfortable about reaching their goal of adding 200 more precinct workers before Nov. 14.
“I don’t know that we’ll get to where we feel comfortable until we get a definite big overflow,” Freeman said.
To sign up for a precinct worker training class, or for more information about becoming a precinct worker, call Carolyn Johnson or Kelly Fidler at 918-596-5762. Or go to the Tulsa County Election Board at email@example.com.