States and counties are putting out "help wanted" signs five months before Election Day in hopes of finding hundreds of thousands of younger, tech-savvy poll workers needed to handle an expected record turnout.
In many cases, workers don't even have to be old enough to vote.
With a one-day workforce of nearly 2 million poll workers wanted by November, election officials are busily recruiting at high schools, colleges and businesses. They're looking for people who can speak foreign languages or help voters with disabilities. They're making training more convenient and splitting long workdays in half.
"The first challenge is just in the sheer numbers," says Dean Logan, acting clerk of Los Angeles County, which needs 25,000 poll workers in the nation's most populous voting jurisdiction.
More than 122 million Americans voted in 2004, up from 105 million in 2000. The number is expected to jump again because of high interest in the White House contest, which drew near-record primary turnout on a percentage basis.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission plans to award $750,000 today to help colleges and non-profits recruit student help. "The more poll workers that we have, the better," says chairwoman Rosemary Rodriguez.
Finding poll workers isn't easy. The pay varies by state but averages about $100 for training and a long day's work, often 14 to 16 hours.
Among the latest innovations:
•Teenagers. More than 40 states now allow 16- or 17-year-olds to work at the polls. "They're younger, they're tech-savvy, and it's a lot of money for them for one day," says Elaine Manlove, Delaware's election commissioner.
•Employers give paid time off. Virginia, which wants 10,000 more poll workers for a 50% increase, has signed up at least 14 businesses that will give workers a paid day off to staff polling places.
•Workers with special abilities. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is among the election chiefs recruiting poll workers who can help the deaf or blind or can speak a language in addition to English.
• Ad campaigns. Officials from Davidson County, Tenn., to Maricopa County, Ariz., are sending notices with utility bills and asking radio and TV stations to run public-service announcements.
•Making the job easier. Vermont splits Election Day shifts in two, a move being considered by other states. South Carolina is among many states letting poll workers take training online.
Two Nebraska counties draft poll workers like juries, but no other entity is. Under Nebraska law, poll workers can't be docked pay for missing work.
Still, says Dave Phipps, election commissioner in Douglas County, which includes Omaha: "There's obviously some resistance to it."