COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 6: Voting stickers lay on a table at the Kings Art Center November 6, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Recent polls show U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are locked in a tight race. (Photo by Jay LaPrete/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 155697219
As the November general election begins to come into view and the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, a call is going out across Summit County for people who are at lower risk from the disease to get involved as Precinct Election Officials, also known as poll workers.
According to Dr. Rosanne Winter, President of the Akron Area League of Women Voters, the current issue is straightforward: “Because the vast majority of poll workers have been people over the age of 60, those who we know are among the most vulnerable when it comes to this virus, many are electing not to become poll workers this year.”
Without enough poll workers, Ohioans could experience long lines, closed polling locations, and confusion at the polls, similar to what was seen in the Wisconsin and Georgia primaries this spring. Large disruptions could discourage people from voting or limit people’s ability to vote on election day.
Ohio’s March 17 primary saw a historically low participation rate of 23%. The election was chaotic for multiple reasons, but if a normal election had been held, Dr. Winter believes issues would have likely arisen from poll workers no-showing or canceling.
As elections officials look ahead to November, Paula Sauter, Deputy Director of the Summit County Board of Elections, says they need to fill 1,680 positions — 4 workers per precinct location — across Summit County. However, 1,680 is just the minimum. The Board of Elections hopes to have an additional 840 trained workers ready to go in case of absences or call-offs. Typically, Paula says approximately 16% of poll workers will call off or not show on election day.
The Board of Elections hopes to have all 1,680 positions filled as soon as possible for the election to run smoothly and safely. To become a poll worker, the Ohio Revised Code requires you to be at least 17 years of age and turning 18 before the November election. You must be a registered voter in Summit County, be able to read and write the English language, and have not been convicted of a felony or any election-related crime. You cannot be a candidate or family member of a candidate for the election in which you are working.
The Board of Elections will be supplying hand sanitizer, masks, and face shields for poll workers, with more precautions possible. Paula says the Board of Elections is working to ensure that poll workers and voters are able to maintain social distancing.
Poll workers’ work is completely nonpartisan, though the Ohio Revised Code does require polling locations to have an even amount of Democratic and Republican participants. If you are not affiliated with either party, you can apply to be a poll worker and the Board of Elections will “ask them what party they want to be appointed by,” Paula says. This doesn’t mean you endorse a party, just that you are counted as such to keep the balance needed at each polling location.
Additionally, Paula says Precinct Election Officials (Poll Workers) are paid. Base pay is $131.94 for the day — and it’s a very long day, starting at 5:30 am and lasting until at least 7:30 pm — and poll workers can earn up to $196.94 for the day depending on the responsibilities assigned to them. Training is paid even if you are not called to work on election day.
Longtime poll worker Roberta Aber, who became active after seeing injustices at polling locations in 2004, says it “only feels like a long day if it is a slow election” — something the November election is unlikely to be. But Roberta says the environment is a calm one, with all political conversations and expressions banned.
“If especially young people can make a contribution to the process, if they help people to vote, they’re going to find it rewarding emotionally and ideologically, to help preserve our democracy,” Roberta says.
“There is nothing more important than the vote,” Dr. Winter says. “Everything we do is dependent on the vote, and we need to protect it, and someone has to be there watching. Someone has to be there answering the questions.”