Bay Area election volunteers lauded

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen this week honored a pair of Santa Clara County polling-place volunteers who have been serving their community for decades.

Rita Chavez Medina and Helen Garza have staffed the polls during elections in the last 60 and 52 years respectively, Bowen said.

“Election after election, Rita and Helen have been an indispensable part of Santa Clara County elections, and I can’t thank them enough for their dedication,” she said in a news release. “Veteran poll workers can’t do it alone, so I hope more voters and high school students in Santa Clara County join Helen and Rita at the polls on Election Day!”

Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Barry Garner said he and his staff are honored to have the two women serve so long. “Their contribution to the election process, in Santa Clara County, is invaluable. They are not doing this for the money, they are doing it for the love of their county, state, and country.”

Bowen noted each statewide election requires a one-day army of 100,000 poll workers in nearly 22,000 polling places across the state. Poll workers help to secure ballots, educate voters about their rights, ensure accessibility for voters with disabilities, and more. A poll worker is paid an average of $100 for the day’s work, though rates vary among counties.

If you’re interested in serving as a poll worker, contact your county elections office or find more information on Bowen’s website. To serve as a poll worker, you must be a registered voter or a high-school student in good standing who is a United States citizen, at least 16 years old, and has a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    I hope the Sec. Asked to see some ID from those two.

  • Patty O’Day

    I volunteered to be a poll worker in August, after I recently moved. They took down my information, but so far nobody has called me or sent me anything. It is my understanding that if I am selected, I have to take some training lessons online. In the past, volunteers had to attend a training class. If I am selected, I need time to be able to do this training. I think it is getting kind of late.

    In the primary, I volunteered as well when I was living in Martinez. Again, nobody contacted me until the day before the election at 4pm. At that point, it was too late for me to make arrangements to be off work, so I had to decline. Plus, I had not had the required training.

    I was a poll worker in two elections in Contra Costa in 2002 and 2003, so I have some experience, and I told them that when I volunteered.

    Apparently they have so many volunteers that they don’t need my help.

  • Steve Weir

    Patty O’Day, Thanks for volunteering, I’ll check (have you re-registered after moving?)

  • Patty O’Day

    Wow! Steve Weir, you have clout! Your office just called me and scheduled me as an inspector. Thanks.

  • JohnW

    There was a lengthy story in the Sunday New York Times about problems with mail-in ballots. I wonder if Steve saw it and what he thought of it.

    The problems range from fraud to a large percentage of ballots being disqualified due to people not following instructions to being disqualified because somebody decided the “r” in somebody’s signature didn’t match the signature on file (a real problem for older people with shaky signatures). In some states, they require two signatures: the voter and a witness who attests that the ballot was filled out in their presence by the person who voted. Seems like that’s almost an open invitation for older people in retirement homes to be given “assistance” in deciding how to vote.

    It is clear that voter impersonation fraud at the polling place is virtually nonexistent — because that would be the riskiest and, by far, the least effective way to commit fraud on any organized scale. In fact, organizing enough in-person voting fraud in any given contest to make a difference in election outcome is all but impossible. Absentee voting, on the other hand, is loaded with fraud possibilities and actual documented fraud history. Yet, the entire “voter integrity” movement is focused on Voter ID, which does nothing to prevent absentee voting fraud or any other kind of fraud that actually happens. All it does is reduce voter turnout among those who don’t have the right kind of ID.

    In fact, the same states that are creating the Voter ID laws, limiting early voting and purging voter registration lists are pushing absentee voting. It seems that Democrats take greater advantage of early in-person voting, while Republicans apparently have the edge in absentee voting.

    Wow! Gives you lots of confidence in our election system. I’m freakin’ out.

  • Steve Weir

    John, I’ll look it up.

    I do an analysis of Vote-by-Mail after each election. Our rejection is mainly due to ballots arriving after 8 pm election day (0.28% Nov. ’08),no signature on the envelope (0.04% Nov. ’08),and no signature match (0.37% Nov. ’08). Due to an extensive publicity campaign, these figures were lower than comparable elections.

    Election Code Section 3000 (deals with vote-by-mail) states: “This division shall be liberally constured in favor of the voter by mail voter.” So, we are not rejecting ballots for picky reasons. Our job is to try to include the ballot in the vote count.

    We noticed a spike in no signature match for the November 2010 election. Turns out it is youngsters, not the oldsters. The age group 20 to 39 represents 15% of our vote-by-mail volume, but accounted for 50% of our rejection due to no signature match. (Channel 2 is doing a story on this this evening, and we are working to get the word out.)

    Of course, I’m speaking for California.

  • JohnW

    Thanks Steve.

    You’re extremely busy, to say the least. So, your response to questions like mine is deeply appreciated.

    I’m curious what the deal is with the 20-39 age group signatures.

    Your rejection rate is much, much lower than the numbers mentioned in the NYT article.

    California’s “liberally construed” law is the way to go. Denying a vote exercised in good faith is serious business. Of course, we probably don’t have “True the Vote” goons (er, “poll watchers”) hovering about in carefully targeted precincts trying to lower the vote total by slowing things down and challenging voters. Why some voter being challenged at the polling place hasn’t knocked the teeth out of one of these people is beyond me.

  • steve weir

    California has well tested rules to discourage mischievious bahavior at the polls.

    You, as a citizen, cannot challenge a voter at the polls. Only a poll worker can do that and must have solid proof (IE: the person is not the voter, or they have already voted, etc.) And, if presented with such a challenge, if the voter takes an oath, they must be given a precinct (not provisional) ballot.

    Same thing with vote-by-mail voters. You, as a citizen, cannot challenge the signature on a vote-by-mail ballot (this was the subject a court challenge in Ellis Vs. Weir from the 2010 General Elections. Ellis recently dropped this case).

    California is a voter intent state. If we define what a vote is ahead of time (Florida could have benefitted from this) and if a questional vote meets the standards, we count it, period. No monkey business.

    My rejection report is on my web site. . Go to the right hand column, (What’s New) and look for the June 5, 2012 Election Report. I have an extensive history of rejections rates going back to the 1990’s.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Voter fraud ain’t what it used to be. Counting the votes until the desired result was achieved was the favored, if not the easiest, technique. Voting machines proved a hindrance but it was overcome by the inventive machines. What reduced fraud in the end was the fatal weakening of bosses and their machines. Some would argue that clean elections haven’t given us necessarily better government or even more responsive office holders.