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Robin Huebner, Published May 18 2014

Robin Huebner reports: Election staff shortage in Cass County spotlights issue

FARGO – For the first time ever, Cass County needed to put out an urgent call for election clerks to staff polling sites for an upcoming election.

When the recent call went out, election officials were concerned because they’d never been this close to an election and worker training without having enough people signed up.

The North Dakota primary election is June 10, and election worker training is May 21 and 22.

“We were struggling to fill positions and had no one on our alternate lists,” said DeAnn Buckhouse, election coordinator for Cass County.

Since then, calls have come in and Buckhouse said they’re in pretty good shape.

But the last-minute flurry points to problems election officials expect to continue: finding people to work in rural precincts and finding people with computer skills; most of the pool of workers is made up of retirees.

“Many of the people interested in being an election clerk and have the necessary computer skills are working a full-time job,” Buckhouse said.

To fill the need, some workers will be driving from Fargo to outlying precincts.

With 37 polling locations and three early-voting sites in the county, Buckhouse typically needs almost 100 clerks to work an election.

“We have to have at least two clerks at each polling site,” she said. Backup workers are necessary, in case someone gets sick or has a family emergency.

“Most of the workers are older and health issues do come up,” Buckhouse said.

Alice Prokop, 74, of Fargo believes in the importance of voting and in being part of the election process.

She’s worked most elections in Cass County since retiring from her job at the North Dakota State University bookstore in 2001.

As an election clerk, she checks in voters and makes sure they have valid identification. While the work can get long – about 10 hours on early-voting days and about 15 hours on the day of the election – Prokop wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

She enjoys seeing people she knows, even though they can’t visit long. “Especially with the early voting, because everyone goes to that one.”

Buckhouse said election clerks are paid $12.64 an hour, and they are paid for hours spent in training. Mileage is paid for those who work outside of what’s considered their home precinct.

An election clerk must be a U.S. citizen, at least 16 years old and a resident of Cass County.

Readers can reach Robin Huebner at rhuebner@forumcomm.com. Huebner is also a 5 p.m. news anchor on WDAY-TV.