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Pa. polls rely on seniors

April 05, 2000|By DON AINES

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Voters were slowly trickling into the Locust Level Full Gospel Church for Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primary, giving the five election workers a chance to start up a game of Triominoes during a lull.

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With no local races and the presidential nominations decided by earlier primaries, turnout was expected to be low. By noon 35 people had cast ballots, an average of seven an hour.

"I'm disappointed. I really am," Retha Daley, the majority clerk for Montgomery Township's 2nd Precinct, said. Daley, 89, has been a poll worker since the Eisenhower administration in 1959.

Sitting next to her was Majority Inspector Hazel E. Angle, 90, who has worked elections for 24 years. She said the November election may be her last but later joked she might stay on "till I'm 100."

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"Oh Hazel, we'll be pushing up daisies long before then," Daley said.

For the average voter, casting a ballot is simple. Running an election in Franklin County, however, requires several hundred people to staff 75 precincts from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and then tabulate write-in votes before driving the ballot boxes up to the county's Administrative Annex.

For a day that can run 14 or 15 hours, the judge gets paid $75 and the others get $65, according to Bertha Smith, the judge of elections at Montgomery 2 Precinct. "It's more of a 'thank you' job," she said.

"When I started working here it was $10 a day," Daley said.

"That's more than I got teaching school," said Angle, who taught math for 40 years before retiring 27 years ago.

The Pennsylvania Election Code requires a judge of elections, a majority and minority inspector and two clerks to work each precinct, and the county relies heavily on retirees, according to County Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers. She said about two-thirds of the poll workers are retired, but "I'm starting to get more younger people than I used to."

All the workers at Montgomery 2 are senior citizens. Smith is 70, Clerk Lorraine Royer is 77 and Clerk Edna Funk is the youngster at 67. They have all worked the precinct for at least a decade and greeted many voters by name.

The county still uses paper ballots, but Daley and Angle go back to the days when they were counted by hand at the precincts. "Oh, do I remember those days. I think one time I got out at 1 a.m.," Angle said.

The county now uses optical readers to count ballots, but the write-in votes are still counted by hand at the precincts. For that reason, Daley doesn't think much of people who pencil-in joke names like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

"If people just realized how much trouble that makes," she said. Although cartoon characters are ineligible to hold office, they still have to be tabulated.

"If I had my way, I'd just say disregard them," Angle said.

The polling place for Montgomery 2, which has about 800 registered voters, has changed several times since Daley and Angle have been working. Daley said it was at two farmhouses, another home and a store before coming to the church. "This is the nicest place we've had yet," she said.

"I told them last fall I wasn't coming back and here I am," Daley said. Angle, whose position is elected, believes she'll finish out her term next year.

Both women expect to be there for the November election.

"We won't be playing Triominoes then," Smith said.

County turnout in the 1996 presidential election was 74 percent.

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