Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Voter Turnout More Than Double the Typical, with Geographic Disparities

It has long been observed that political engagement in general and voter turnout in particular tends to be greater in more affluent areas.

NewsLanc's Election Day interviews demonstrate that Lancaster County is no exception.

In Lancaster Township's Seventh District, 280 people had voted as of 1:30 pm, according to Judge of Elections Terrie Finger.

There are 1142 registered voters in the precinct.

But in more urban areas, turnout was less than a third of the affluent suburb's numbers.

In Lancaster City's Third Ward for example, the second precinct (voting in the lobby of the apartment complex at Farnum & Christian Streets) saw only 74 voters by 2:30 pm

At Carter & MacRae Elementary School on South Prince Street in Lancaster City's Fourth Ward, First Precinct, they had just broken 100 by 3:00 pm.

Usually, the precinct sees about 50 people all day.

While the character of the neighborhoods varied greatly, one thing that appeared to be constant was the caliber of the poll workers.

All of them said that they feel motivated to volunteer by a sense of civic duty and community cameraderie.

Terrie Finger, the Judge of Elections in Lancaster Township's Seventh District, said that she feels motivated by a sense of civic responsibility.

Laurie Olin, an Inspector of Elections in that precinct, agreed.

She says, "it's good to see all your neighbors."

Finger, who has been volunteering for about six years, works in advertising while Olin works for the Lancaster Foundation for Educational Enrichment.

Mary Codish is a volunteer in Lancaster City's Third Ward, Second Precinct. She's 86 years old, retired, and has been helping out at the polls for sixteen years.

She also volunteers with the Salvation Army.

Jack Yohn, the Judge of Elections in that precinct, said that now-County-Commissioner Craig Lehman encouraged him to volunteer two years ago when the two were neighbors.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It needs to be done, it's very important, and so it's nice to be involved in something as important as this."

A couple of blocks away at Carter & MacRae Elementary School, Judge of Elections Glenn Brooks was going the extra mile to help the more-than-20 voters who had come to the wrong polling place to find their correct one.

He used his cell phone to call the Elections Board to tell them where they needed to go.

It's not a requirement of Judges of Elections, but Brooks feels it's the right thing to do.

"It's not about politics," he says. "It's about helping people to vote."

His precinct also sees a significant proportion of spanish-speaking voters.

Brooks says he's lucky to have found a volunteer from the district who speaks fluent Spanish.

"In November, I'd like to see at least one additional bilingual person," Brooks said.

This is the fifth election for which Brooks has served as a poll worker.

"We've had people come in here who, if it wasn't for our help, they never would have been able to vote today," he said.

According to the County Bureau of Elections and Voter Registration, Judges of Elections are paid $105 for their time, while all other poll workers are paid $90.

This corps of volunteers - only 4 workers per polling place - sets up the polling places, oversees voting from 7 am to 8 pm, verifies the accuracy of the procedures, and returns all materials to the County Elections Bureau at the end of the night.