County Officials Pleased With Poll Worker Turnout
MAYVILLE — The process of absentee voting will not be the only thing on the minds of election officials across the country this year — the staffing of election sites amid a pandemic has also proved to be an issue.
Luckily, it won’t be an issue in Chautauqua County.
“Our poll worker situation is unbelievably good,” Brian Abram, Republican Election Commissioner told The Post-Journal late last week.
“That’s a Chautauqua County thing,” he added. “Our front-line poll workers are solid, there are enough of them and we are delighted to say that. I can say right now, I don’t think there’s another county that makes that statement in New York state.”
According to the state’s election webpage, counties are seeing a “critical” shortage of poll workers and election inspectors because “55% of all New York’s poll workers are over the age of 60, making them especially vulnerable to the pandemic. This has resulted in a significant need for poll workers who are willing and able to assist with the administration of in-person voting.”
Experts say finding enough poll workers is always difficult, even when there isn’t a pandemic killing thousands of people, forcing widespread shutdowns and spawning a series of evolving safety rules. Normally, long hours, low pay and lots of stress might keep folks away. Now add face shields, protective barriers and fears of getting sick.
More than two-thirds of poll workers are over age 61, putting them at higher risk of the COVID-19 disease. Scores of workers dropped out during this year’s primary season, taking with them decades of experience as the pandemic stifled efforts to train replacements.
Abram, meanwhile, said that’s not the case for the county’s need for 600 election inspectors in 100 voting districts.
“It’s just weird,” he said. “I’ve presented to the state, (Democratic Election Commissioner) Norm (Green) has presented to the state and everyone else is just dying for poll workers and we’re pretty set. We’re in good shape.”
“We have good solid people and good solid volunteers even amid this pandemic.”
He added, “I was expecting 25% to say, ‘I’m not wearing that mask all day.’ It’s amazing. It’s truly amazing the strength of their civic duty to come forward and be there year after year even in a crisis like this. They are still there. My hats off and anytime I can speak on them about them, it’s my pleasure.”
Poll workers and election inspectors are ” responsible for making sure that the voters are processed in a fair and efficient manner according to Election law.” Each are required to attend a paid class and are paid $11.80 an hour.
To recruit workers, Abram said that the county has engaged in different creative tactics to help prevent the shortage those in other counties and states are seeing.
“Even before COVID, everyone is dying out there to convince people to come and work,” he said. “There are some creative things to do, but what I think happens in people’s lives is they just figure that’s the same recipe and it’s going to work and my thought is, ‘No it’s not.'”
He added, “We would have dried up too, but we went to schools and said, ‘Hey government teacher, you want your students to get some hands-on democracy? Send them our way. We’ll work them four hours a day. They can have this as a part of the class or as a part of the government class and get paid.'”
“All of a sudden it went from one kid to like 30,” Abram said.
The commissioners also tried to recruit workers through various church groups and and the county’s Office of the Aging.
“You do everything you can,” Abram said. “Is it easy? No. Are we successfully still getting enough poll workers?”
Flexibility has also attracted the necessary number of people.
“Other counties go, ‘You’re going to be here from 5 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night,'” Abram said. “You can’t do that. Once a person gets to a certain age, it’s too much.”
The solution? Splitting up shifts.
“If you give them seven hours in the a.m. and then seven hours in the p.m. and break that thing up and call it ‘split shifts’ and allow people the flexibility to continue to be in the process but not get stuck there for 16 hours,” said Abram. “That becomes too much.”
He added, “We’re going to do things differently and all these little nuances between that and the core group we’re talking about have kept everything on a path where we’re still in really good shape.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.