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Poll worker knows the drill - it will be a long day

Since 1984, Celeste Laspata has showed up faithfully at her polling station, perhaps missing one election in all those years.

Celeste Laspata talks about her experience working the polls in Gloucester County for more than 30 years.
Celeste Laspata talks about her experience working the polls in Gloucester County for more than 30 years.Read moreAARON RICKETTS / Staff Photographer

Since 1984, Celeste Laspata has showed up faithfully at her polling station, perhaps missing one election in all those years.

The Gloucester County polling station can't do without the Williamstown resident, for Laspata, 60, is a poll worker and election day fixture in District 14.

"They all come to me because I've been there the longest," said Laspata, who is employed in the accounts payable department at the Monroe Township School District. "People always say, 'If you leave here, we're in trouble.' "

On Tuesday, primary election day in New Jersey, Laspata expects to be at her station at the Monroe Township Library by 5 a.m. She will stay until 8 or 8:30 p.m. and, like other poll workers, take home $200 for the day's work.

"It's a long day, yes, you want to get out," she said. "But if you can help somebody, then you help them. . . . I love it, I really enjoy it."

She feels a deep connection to the town where she has lived since age 2, and often recognizes people who come in to vote, she said.

Polling places typically are staffed by poll workers belonging to each party, said Stephanie Salvatore, the superintendent of elections in Gloucester County. Laspata, one of 900 poll workers in the county, is a Republican.

"They're mostly, I would say, retired folks," said Cheryl Hawkins, administrative assistant at the county Board of Elections. "We have a sprinkle of younger folks in there, which is good."

Although there is no severe poll worker shortage, the county, like others in the area, is open to new worker applications to fill any open slots, Salvatore said. This year, the county accepted nine new applications.

Prior to Tuesday's primary, the Gloucester County Board of Elections had run an ad looking for applicants.

The poll worker must be a registered voter in the county to manage the polls, prepare and close the polling location for voting, confirm that voters who come in are registered in the district, and demonstrate the voting process to voters, if necessary.

Some college students come back from school in the summer months and want to help during the June elections, Salvatore said, but Hawkins said the county typically receives applications from people who are retired. The majority of poll workers - about 75 percent - return year after year to work, she said.

"It's usually the same people who are always there," Salvatore said.

Working the polls is not a new concept for Laspata's family, either. Her aunt, now 92, worked the polls for years before Laspata began, which inspired her to get involved.

"She just asked me," Laspata said. "I thought it was very interesting, I wanted to do it. She just thought I would be good to be with her as a poll worker."

Laspata will be one of four District 14 workers at the library Tuesday.

Improved voting machines have made the process a lot easier and faster, she said.

But she regrets that in many elections, the turnout is poor, especially in primary elections where no township or other local races are on the ballot.

Sometimes, she said, as few as 50 people might show up throughout the day.

"If there's no township election, it's sad. People don't come out, they don't care. It's really bad," Laspata said.

She does have high hopes for Tuesday's election, and expects more people to come out to vote because there are local races on the ballot this time.

Voters will also have the opportunity to pick presidential and congressional candidates.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

eserpico@philly.com

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