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Bank, ballots mix in Orange County

Wells Fargo agrees to use employees as poll workers in a deal with the county.

October 23, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Rosenblatt is a Times staff writer.

Democracy -- now available at a Wells Fargo near you.

In a unique move intended to expand the pool of poll workers and polling sites, the Orange County registrar of voters Wednesday announced a "corporate sponsorship" deal with Wells Fargo.

Under the agreement, the bank will provide employees to be trained as poll workers to man the ballot boxes Nov. 4. Vote-by-mail paperwork is available at Orange County Wells Fargo branches, and banks can be used as polling sites in future elections.

There was no money exchanged, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said. And the bank won't be drumming up business outside voting booths.

"The poll site is a sanctuary of sorts. It's a place that is completely neutral: There's no promotion, there's no advertising, nothing," Kelley said. "The goal of the program is to recruit poll workers -- not to brand a stadium."

In exchange for volunteers, the San Francisco-based bank can use the Orange County seal on its literature and website, and advertise its association with the county registrar -- after the election, Kelley said. Strictly forbidden, Kelley said, is any Wells Fargo advertising. Voters should have no idea if volunteers are affiliated with the bank.

"We certainly would not use this as a forum to promote Wells Fargo's products and services by any measure," said Julie Green Rommel, the company's Orange County communications manager.

Kelley compared the public-private partnership to Caltrans' adopt-a-highway program.

Bank workers will be trained just like any other volunteers, and they must be U.S. citizens and registered voters to work the polls. They will be paid their normal wages in addition to the standard poll worker stipend -- $95.

The idea was born out of the struggle to find the 8,400 people needed to monitor elections countywide, Kelley said. "We have to be creative in the elections business to continue to look for volunteers."

The bank is the registrar's first full corporate sponsor; election officials also have a partial relationship with 24 Hour Fitness, under which vote-by-mail forms are available at the gym's Orange County locations. Kelley said his office has approached other corporations, including airlines and entertainment companies, but has not finalized any additional sponsorships.

The bank's participation, Rommel said, is "about being a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen." The bank also has get-out-the-vote messages at its ATMs and promotes voting among employees, she said.

The sponsorship allows the registrar to call on Wells Fargo volunteers as needed and to end the agreement at any time. Wells Fargo could not estimate how many volunteers the company would provide on election day; it employs about 3,000 people in Orange County.

This isn't the county's first foray into offering voters something a little different. Earlier this week, the registrar offered a single day of drive-through voting and voter registration.

Early voting began Sunday; since then, 4,000 people have cast their ballots in the county, Kelley said.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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