The nationwide shortage of poll workers has inspired a young generation of Americans to step up to the front lines of the election process. Through The Poll Hero Project, founded by a group of students at Princeton University, Denver East High School, and the University of Chicago, thousands of college and high school students are being recruited to serve as paid poll workers in the upcoming election. “Most poll workers are typically over the age of 60, so they are a lot more vulnerable to COVID-19. We’ve expanded nationally to try and recruit poll workers everywhere,” said 19-year-old Kai Tsurumaki, a student at Princeton University and co-founder of the Poll Hero Project. The project, which initially focused on federal funding for vote-by-mail efforts, shifted its mission to recruiting poll workers once the nationwide shortage became evident. Through their recruitment efforts and outreach, The Poll Hero Project estimates that they have been able to register over 32,500 poll workers.
Texas: Two counties cut voting locations as workers quit over coronavirus | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune
A lack of workers willing to run polling sites as Texas continues to report record coronavirus infections is forcing election officials in two major counties to scale back plans for the July 14 primary runoff elections. Citing a drop-off spurred by fear of the virus, Bexar County, the state’s fourth largest, is expected to close at least eight of its planned 226 voting locations for next Tuesday, according to County Judge Nelson Wolff. In Tarrant County, the third largest, election officials learned Thursday that the local Republican and Democratic parties had agreed to shutter two of 173 sites planned for election day voting after the parties were unable to find election judges to run the polling places. Although poll workers are generally being provided with protective gear, Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not require voters to wear masks when they show up at polling locations is driving some poll workers away, Wolff said. “There is protection for them in terms of what they try to do, but anybody can walk in without a mask,” Wolff said Wednesday evening during his daily coronavirus-related briefing. “The governor did not cover elections, and so they don’t want to work. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them.”
Whether Ohio poll workers — often in their golden years — will show up to work in November if the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage was a topic of concern at a state election readiness task force meeting Thursday. “We need to emphasize to our Election Day volunteers, our elections workers, our poll workers, is we appreciate their support, their health is great, but do not make this commitment and then break it,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. “Because just not showing up on Election Day morning is a highly irresponsible thing to do.” Some elections boards are conducting surveys of poll workers to find out if they remain willing to work if the virus continues to circulate. Elections boards and the Secretary of State’s office are also stepping up recruitment efforts to replace those who don’t return. Terry Burton, Wood County’s elections director and a guest speaker, told task force members the county surveyed workers to determine now if they will still serve if the pandemic worsens. “We’re trying to make sure that we figure out right up front what sort of numbers we’re looking at,” he said.
National: COVID endangers the volunteers who make your vote count | Pat Beall and John Moritz/USA Today
Lost in the broader chaos of Georgia’s recent statewide election was a previously unreported incident that highlights a concern for every state planning for the November general election: Just 48 hours before Georgia’s June 9 election, a poll worker in Jackson County tested positive for COVID-19. Emails obtained by USA TODAY show Jackson County elections supervisor Jennifer Logan told election board members that, on the advice of an election official in Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, they were not required to tell the public anything. The official’s argument was that “due to the continuing health crisis, everyone knows the risk that they take when they go out in public…and they are making that choice,” the email states. Logan did not respond to written requests for comment, and it’s unclear whether other Jackson County poll workers were notified that one of their colleagues had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. In a statement, a Raffsenberger spokesman said counties had been advised only to make their own decisions after talking to health officials and their own legal counsel.
Pennsylvania: State allows big reduction in poll workers for 2020 primary election to help counties during pandemic | Jonathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania’s county election officials are receiving some relief from state requirements. Counties will be allowed to run the June 2 primary election with fewer than half the normal number of poll workers, the Pennsylvania Department of State said Wednesday evening, with a minimum of five workers per polling place regardless of how many precincts it serves. That will help relieve pressure to fill poll-worker slots. While recruitment has been a challenge for years, the older average age of poll workers makes them vulnerable to the coronavirus. Across the state, counties have heard from poll workers scared to work the primary because of health risk. (State officials have even considered deploying the National Guard to serve as poll workers.) “Poll worker recruitment is always hard, but it is especially hard when whole election boards are telling us that they will not be working due to COVID-19, like they are doing this election,” said Lisa Deeley, chair of the Philadelphia Board of City Commissioners, which normally has to recruit, train, and oversee thousands of poll workers. “Under these circumstances, every little bit that makes running election day easier is helpful.”
Pennsylvania: As Poll Workers Worry About Safety, Staffing For June Primary Will Be A Challenge | Katie Meyer(WHYY
This week, after much deliberation, Nancy Nylund decided that she’s staying home this primary. “It was actually quite agonizing because I love working at the polls,” she said. Nylund, 68, has served as an inspector of elections in her Plymouth Meeting precinct for several years. But she is also on immunosuppressant medication for her rheumatoid arthritis, and so she decided she didn’t want to risk coming into contact with someone infected with COVID-19. As a retired nurse, she knows what would be at stake. “Of course it makes it more risky, since I’m considered immunosuppressed, to be sitting three feet from people checking the books,” she said. Across Pennsylvania, other poll workers are facing the same dilemma as the primary election approaches. Poll workers have to decide whether to disregard pandemic best practices and commit to sitting in a polling place for an entire day, and county and state officials have to figure out ways to keep those workers and voters safe while not infringing on anyone’s rights.
On Nov. 6, I’ll join almost a million other Americans who have volunteered — for a minimal fee — to help man the polls. It’s an extraordinary thing when you think about it. This army bands together for a single day (or several, if you include early voting) to make sure every American can exercise one of their most fundamental rights. For all the talk of “rigged” elections, cyberthreats, voter suppression and fraud, it’s often those on the front lines who most affect your voting experience. And that responsibility has only become more complicated. After reporting about voting for NPR for 18 years, I decided that it was finally time to work at the polls. I’m usually covering the story, but this year I’m off writing a book and had the time. I started with poll worker training class. In my class of 18, all but two of us were women. We began the four-hour session getting tested on some of the rules, especially for voters with disabilities. No, a voter who wants assistance does not need a note from their doctor. Yes, voters can get help reading and even marking their ballot, as long as the helper fills out a Voter Assistance Form and is not their boss, union representative or a candidate. And doesn’t tell them how to vote.
On the night before Philly’s primary, four local election officials are accused of casting extra votes in order to balance their numbers. Sandra Lee, 60, Alexia Harding, 22, James Collins, 69, and Gregory Thomas, 60, are all charged with voter fraud. Warrants for their arrests were issued Monday. All four suspects were election officials from Philly’s 18th Ward, 1st Division. “There’s no legally justifiable reason to vote multiple times and you cannot falsely certify that you live in a particular ward and division in order to work the polls and collect a check,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “Our democracy rests on free and fair elections, but it also relies on the fact that they are conducted properly, which is why these four individuals deserve to be arrested for what they did.”
A decades-old part of Texas’ election code is receiving new attention as Democrats look to chart a path forward and maintain their ranks of volunteers qualified to register voters. Perhaps no organization is expected to feel the effect more than Battleground Texas, whose thousands of deputy voter registrars will lose their certification Dec. 31, and will have to go through training before they can earn it back in the new year. “This is wildly burdensome,” said Mimi Marziani, voter protection director at Battleground Texas. “The only logical explanation is that all of those things are aimed at the same goal, which is making it much harder to vote.” Under state election law, deputy volunteer registrars serve two-year terms that expire at the end of even-numbered years. While the provision has been on the books since the 1980s, Democrats predict this year will bring its most far-reaching consequences yet because the number of deputy volunteer registrars has ballooned in just two years.