How poll workers play a key role on Election Day

Poll workers are the backbone of Election Day. But what happens when you don’t have enough workers?

The coronavirus pandemic has brought new challenges to the Portage County Board of Elections, causing the office to tackle election season a little differently. Faith Lyons, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, believes having enough poll workers is key to having a successful Election Day.

“We’ve had a lot of call offs… well over 200,” Lyons said. “Many of those call offs were frankly due to the fact of the age of some of our workers and also health concerns for those workers.”

Despite the large amount of call offs for poll workers, Lyons said due to their rigorous recruiting process, there should be more than enough workers for Election Day.

At each polling station, there has to be an equal number of registered Democrats and Republicans working the polls. If a Democrat poll worker calls off, that means another Democrat must replace them.

“You are statutorily required to have those workers in a single precinct,” Lyons said. “In equal numbers, you can start to take away poll workers, but we do it equally. So if we’re short one, then we become short two.”

Lyons said they try to avoid doing this as much as possible, especially during a presidential election, as it can cause an increase in wait times and lines at the polls.

Poll workers go through a few days of training where they learn the responsibilities of working the polls on Election Day. Lyons said they’ve recruited about 750 workers total, with an equal amount from each party.

Barb Hipsman Springer, voting location manager for the League of Women Voters in Kent, said it is imperative to have enough workers on Election Day in order to have the process run smoothly.

“We are in the middle of not just COVID, but now we start flu season,” Hipsman Springer said. “The issue is that many poll workers… are over the age of 60-65… we’re most at risk. If I didn’t have to go, if I knew there is somebody younger who could step in for me, I wouldn’t go.”

It is challenging for the board of elections to predict if they will have enough workers on Election Day, as it can be chaotic with last-minute call offs and changes of plans.

“You’re finding out on Election Day, it’s really not planned well,” Lyons said. “We have what we call alternate poll workers, which are those additional 300 people or so that we recruit just for that reason… We have individuals that we are recruiting and telling them from the day you train until the end of election day when polls close, you are on call to potentially fill in that location position if you are needed.”

Both Hipsman Springer and Lyons said working the polls is an invaluable experience that is a part of a citizen’s civic duty.

“You meet a lot of people from your neighborhood that you’re covering,” Hipsman Springer said. “(Voting is) exciting, but it shouldn’t be scary.”

Contact Molly Heideman at [email protected].