- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

Hundreds of D.C. poll workers will have to wait about six weeks for their paychecks for working on Tuesday’s presidential election after elections officials shelved an experiment to dole out the $100 stipends using ATM cards.

The distribution of the automated teller machine cards drew criticism after the city’s Sept. 14 primary because “administrative fees” charged by ATMs were being skimmed from workers’ pay when they tried to get their money, poll workers said.

“You had to pay the ATM machine and then you couldn’t get all the money at once,” said Margaret Bryant, 80, a veteran poll worker in Southeast. “We work hard for that money.”

Ms. Bryant was one of hundreds of poll workers paid with ATM cards rather than checks for their work during the primary.

D.C. elections officials say the practice of using ATM cards to pay poll workers was implemented to reduce paperwork and expedite reimbursement.

But, when workers tried to get their money, some found it wasn’t immediately available, while others couldn’t withdraw all their money at once. The poll workers also reported having to pay as much as $3.75 in ATM fees.

Bill O’Field, a spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said the move to start paying workers with ATM cards was part of the D.C. Treasury officials’ efforts to implement a “paperless system” of reimbursement.

Mr. O’Field said the administrative fees weren’t being charged by the D.C. government and that they were not going to city coffers. He said that money went to the banks.

“Right now [the workers are] being paid by check, but I don’t know what the elections board’s plans are for going back to the ATM cards,” he said. “That may be something they’ll study.”

Mr. O’Field said elections officials did receive complaints after the primary about difficulties some poll workers had using the ATM cards, though he said others “were thrilled with it.”

He said the six-week wait to get paid is not unusual. For example, poll workers in Montgomery County also have to wait several weeks to get paid for their hours, Mr. O’Field said.

The spokesman said he did not think the ATM problems hurt the city’s efforts to recruit poll workers. He said the elections board had about 1,700 workers citywide on Tuesday, including poll workers, precinct captains and technicians.

Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said she’s not familiar with the practice of using ATM cards to pay election workers. She said most jurisdictions pay workers by checks.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of anyone trying to do something like that,” she said.

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