Thousands of workers will be hired in East Texas to work on the 2020 U.S. Census.
The U.S. Census Bureau is planning to open a regional headquarters in Tyler to serve 33 northeastern Texas counties.
The Census Bureau says it will need at least 1,518 workers in Smith County and at least 970 in Gregg County.
Dennis Johnson, the deputy regional director for the Denver/Dallas region, said those numbers are minimums, and the bureau will try to recruit more.
The Tyler office will employ 40 to 50 people who handle administrative tasks like payroll. Thousands more will serve northeastern Texas and report to the Tyler office during the peak of census season.
“We’ll be doing (recruiting) starting December or January, and a lot of those folks will work on some of our operations to work with households that haven’t responded, to make sure we have a complete count of everyone,” Johnson said.
“Some of our workers will be going to places like nursing homes and correctional institutions and places where people live in a congregate situation and assisting those organizations to get a complete count of their residents,” he said.
The U.S. Constitution requires the census to be taken every 10 years. The results help determine federal funding for areas across the country, and help officials draw election districts ranging from Tyler City Council to U.S. Congress.
Households will receive reminder cards about the census in March, and will be able to fill it out online, by mail or by phone. The phone survey will be available in English and in 12 other languages.
“Don’t just answer the census, but be a part of it, whether it’s working for us or putting the word out to any groups or organizations that they belong to,” Johnson said.
“We just want to encourage everyone to take it to heart and do what they can to support the effort,” he said.
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Students at Robert E. Lee High School and John Tyler High School are collecting canned food and monetary donations for the 29th annual Pantry Raid. Each student body hopes to out-donate the other to win a trophy and bragging rights.
“I think the Pantry Raid is a great cause,” Robert E. Lee High School Student Council President Michael Foley, 18, said. “I’ve had the opportunity over the years to do service projects where I see the need in the community for food. To be able to help as a student makes you humble.”
Senior Nia Edwards, John Tyler Student Council president, said, “You never know at school who at home is struggling with meals. Not only can we provide for people we go to school with, but we provide to people outside of school and the community.”
Over the past 28 years, John Tyler and Robert E. Lee students have collected over 1.3 million pounds of food combined, providing over 1.1 million additional meals to children, families and seniors served by the East Texas Food Bank.
”The Pantry Raid matters because our East Texas communities sorely need the energetic engagement of our young people in the fight against hunger,” East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane said. “The student bodies of Tyler Lee and John Tyler are our future and through Pantry Raid are making a substantial contribution towards building a better world — and we are grateful.”
Donations of nonperishable canned food items will be accepted at both high schools through Friday. Monetary donations for the Pantry Raid can be made online at EastTexasFoodBank.org/PantryRaid. The results of the competition will be announced during halftime of the football game between the rival schools this Saturday at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Leaders within the local Democratic Party and Republican Party agree that the Smith County government should do more to train people who oversee polls.
Michael Tolbert, the chairman of the Smith County Democratic Party, asked for more training during a public comment session at the Tuesday meeting of the Commissioners Court.
The job in question is called an election judge. The county’s Democratic and Republican parties each appoint one judge for each polling place in the county, and the polls are co-managed by the members from each party.
The request came one week after the Commissioners Court approved a list of Democratic election judges for the Nov. 5, 2019, election, but did not take action on a list from the Republicans, where there has been controversy over the selections.
“I served as an election judge during the 2016 general election, and my observation was that it was a very busy election,” Tolbert said to the court. “I can tell you that the 2020 election is going to be even busier and more competitive.
“I recommend that we conduct comprehensive training to make sure all of the election judges are fully informed, aware and knowledgeable about election law,” he said.
Tolbert said he worked at the polling place in Smith County Precinct 55, in the southeastern part of Tyler. He said there was a long line, and people were waiting up to an hour to cast a ballot.
“We had them steady flowing, but the volume was just so high that with one check-in computer and the number of actual voting machines, it just wasn’t enough to get people through in an efficient manner,” Tolbert said.
He said the Texas Legislature’s decision to eliminate straight-ticket voting — where voters can hit one button to cast a ballot for every one of a party’s candidates — in 2020 could increase the amount of time it takes people to cast ballots.
“Instead of a person going up and taking 10 to 15 seconds to vote, let’s consider what happens when that time increases to 30 to 45 seconds, how that will literally double the amount of time it takes to get people through the polls,” Tolbert said.
In a follow-up interview on Tuesday, Elisabeth Ayub, the spokeswoman for the Smith County Republican Party, agreed that her party would benefit from more training, and said the party has requested it.
“There definitely needs to be more thorough training,” Ayub said. “We’ve also heard the same things from our election judges. We have implemented an alternative for our judges to be trained by those who have retired.
“We have someone who has been doing it for 20 years, and he’s going to do a secondary training for us,” Ayub said. “However, we do know that there are new machines and new standards, so we have also requested more thorough and more intense training.”
Smith County Elections Administrator Karen Nelson said Wednesday that there had been discussions about training, but no formal meeting about concerns. She said her office always provides training, that it will provide more training prior to Nov. 5, and she is happy to hear Tolbert’s ideas.
Nelson said her office is planning to send out training packets to Democratic and Republican election judges once both election judge lists are finalized. The Commissioners Court did not approve the Republican Party’s proposed list at a meeting Aug. 27. A longtime GOP election judge has disputed the party officials’ proposed list.
For the May school board and municipal elections, Nelson said her office burned CDs for poll workers about the new voting machines. Going forward, the office also plans to require election judges to take an online training through the Texas Secretary of State’s Office and then allow them to attend training during October.
Nelson said one outstanding question is whether the Elections Office itself will do a deep-dive training into the Texas Election Code. Historically, the individual parties have handled that part, she said.
“I’m open to any suggestions that Michael has that he thinks will be helpful,” Nelson said. “That’d be awesome if he could share those ideas with me, and the Republican Party as well.”
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