York County poll workers, the unsung heroes of Election Day
Amid the sea of gray hair, Noah Gladfelter's dark hair, protruding from under his black baseball cap atop his boyish face, stood out during a recent training session for York County's election poll workers.
At 35, Gladfelter is an anomaly. The Red Lion man is one of the youngest people, if not the youngest, to sign on to help make sure the upcoming Election Day runs as smoothly as possible for voters.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, the day of the municipal election, Gladfelter will man a polling place for the first time — though he's helped his mother, who is also a poll worker, set up election equipment for the big day.
"I'm not sure what to expect," he said, adding he intends his first day to be just the start of his career as a poll worker.
Gladfelter is one of hundreds of poll workers, most of whom are retirees, in the county who work the polls each Election Day, whether 10 or 1,000 voters turn out at any given polling place.
Workers: More than 800 poll workers fan out across the county twice a year — once in the spring and again in the autumn — to work at the 159 polling places.
And that makes for a long day for the workers who are paid roughly minimum wage for their efforts.
The standard poll worker is paid a flat rate of $100, plus $15 for mandatory pre-Election Day training, to work the polls, which are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. But the day also includes setting up the voting machines and the like in the pre-dawn hours and tearing them down after the moon rises, said Nikki Suchanic, head of the county's elections and voter registration office.
That means the average poll worker is at the polls from about 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. and is paid about just under $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage.
Election judges, who oversee a polling place, are paid $125 a day for their efforts.
But no one is in it for the money.
"A lot of people are doing it to be involved in the process," said Sally Kohlbus, the assistant director of the elections office.
Who they are: For the past 10 or 12 years, Connie Folkenroth has spent her election days working at Loganville's lone polling place.
As a 77-year-old retired school teacher, Folkenroth has time to help out at the poll inside the Loganville fire station and said she likes spending time with friends who also work at the poll and enjoys running into people she knows who come out to vote.
But during some elections, voters are few and far between. During the 2014 general election, 398 voters in Loganville went to visit Folkenroth to carry out their democratic duties. At 49 percent, Loganville had a better Election Day turnout than the county, which hit 44 percent turnout last year. It gives her a good feeling, Folkenroth said, that the small southern York County borough had a comparatively high voter turnout.
Off-year municipal elections typically see lower voter turnout compared to the more high-profile presidential elections. But some voters turn out no matter what.
One family, Folkenroth said, comes to the polling place year after year to vote together. On the same token, she said she always hopes more voters would come out and raise their proverbial voice at the ballot box.
"It's frustrating that people can have such an attitude to it that they don't even register to vote," she said.
To join: A potential poll worker must meet two simple requirements in order to sign up. They must be at least 18 years old and be registered to vote, Suchanic said.
But the fact the workers must be at the polling place all day typically limits those who sign on for the work to retirees.
Some younger voters have shown interest in being a poll worker, but the appeal is quashed when they learn they'd have to work all day, Suchanic said.
Once someone becomes a poll worker, they are usually in it for life, with some doing the job for decades, she said.
Younger blood: Tina Cooper, who works the polling place at Covenant Moravian Church in York Township, said her teenage son Max, a student at Dallastown Area High School, has shown an interest in becoming a poll worker. But since Max is only 16, he's too young to work the polls.
Max's interest in the election process started when Cooper and her husband would include him in their talks about politics, she said.
Cooper, who has been a poll worker for about five years, said she remembers going to visit her grandmother when she worked a polling place.
"I'm a homemaker and I have the time to do it," she said.
Shawn Gunnett also followed in a family member's footsteps when he worked the polls for the first time earlier this year. His 76-year-old dad has been a poll worker about 18 years now and is still going strong.
"I think it's great he still gets out and helps," the younger Gunnett said.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.