In this season of nonstop campaign ads and fervent public appeals for votes in next month's mid-term election, Bucks County officials are scrambling to find enough workers to staff polling stations on Election Day.
So far, the county has lined up 1,800 poll workers, 200 short of its goal of 2,000. That's barely enough workers to staff the polls and assist voters in Bucks County's 304 voting districts, county spokesperson Larry King said. Not to mention the chance that some of those who signed up to work won't show.
And in this defining national election, officials expect voter turnout to be higher than usual on Nov. 6.
"This election cycle is particularly busy," said Deanna Giorno, chief clerk of Bucks County. "The voter registration office is working nonstop."
In the 2016 general election, Bucks County reported voter turnout of 75.95 percent, higher than the national turnout of around 61 percent. In contrast, turnout in municipal elections in the county has been significantly lower, topping out at 30.32 percent and falling as low as 12.11 percent in the last few years.
Up for grabs in next month's election are all 435 seats in the U.S. House and 33 in the U.S. Senate. This year's balloting will determine whether Republicans continue to control both chambers, and many hard-fought races are at stake as Democrats try to chip away at the GOP's dominance. Across the country, there are more than 6,500 state positions on the ballot, including Pennsylvania governor and lieutenant governor, as well as numerous local races.
Poll workers in Bristol, Falls, Newtown, and Upper Southampton are particularly short-staffed, Bucks County officials said as they launched a recruitment drive in a bid to draw workers to the polls. Needed are election judges, machine inspectors, clerks, and majority and minority party inspectors — the "unsung engine that helps run a smooth election," King said. With the exception of election judges, who are paid $135 in a full-day shift, those workers earn $105 a day.
In surrounding counties in Pennsylvania and in South Jersey, officials say they're expecting a sufficient number of poll workers, but they are still looking for more, especially those willing to start working around 6 a.m. and stay until 9 p.m., as votes are tabulated after the polls close.
"It's always tough to fill these positions," said John Corcoran, spokesperson for Montgomery County. "It's a very long day."
On and around Election Day, some poll workers will likely cancel, he said, leaving vacancies that election officials are suddenly pressed to fill.
"There are lots of people pulling out last minute," said Stephanie Salvatore, superintendent of elections in Gloucester County. "So far, knock on wood, we seem to be pretty good."
"Normally, I wouldn't say this is going to be a turnout year," said Salvatore, who oversees the county's 229 voting districts, "but I think it's going to be a good turnout year. I haven't seen anything like this since 2008, when Obama was running."
King, the Bucks County spokesperson, said poll-worker jobs tend to attract retirees and public-sector workers, some of whom have the day off on Election Day. Many of those who work the polls once, he said, are inclined to come back for another election.
In the days since the county announced the shortage of poll workers last week, he said, 25 people had stepped forward, eager to work next month.
"It's not really something you do for the money," he said. "It's more of a public service."