More training on the way for Philly’s first-time poll workers

A voter checks in with an election worker before casting her ballot

A voter, right, checks in with an election worker before casting her ballot in the Pennsylvania primary in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Beth Kanofsky was tapped to be a poll worker in Northeast Philadelphia last week and finished the required hour-long training video on Sunday, scoring high marks on the quiz that followed. But she’s still nervous.

“The integrity of the election is really important to me, so I’m nervous,” she said. “I have lots of responsibility for my one specific, small part of it.”

According to Lauren Cristella, chief advancement officer of the nonpartisan good-government group Committee of Seventy, Kanofsky is not the only anxious poll worker.

More than 20,000 Philadelphians applied to take 8,500 poll worker spots, many left empty by veterans of the job who were nervous about COVID-19 exposure at in-person voting sites. Many of those stepping up, however, are like Kanofsky and have never worked an election before.

To quell concerns, the organization is partnering with the Voter Project and the Philadelphia City Commissioners to bring seven virtual Q&A sessions from Monday through the day before the election.

“This isn’t your typical day job and this is … for a lot of people a new experience, often a little anxiety-producing, and I think it really speaks to the seriousness with which everyone is taking this election,” said Cristella. “They want it to go well. The poll workers know that they are democracy’s essential workers and on the front lines of this election.”

The hour-long webinars, hosted on Zoom, start off with 20 minutes of running through scenarios poll workers might encounter, including the process of spoiling a mail-in or absentee ballot a voter may not want to use and issuing a provisional ballot.

“That’s probably going to be used a bit more than usual this year, so we want to make sure everyone feels really confident in those special procedures,” said Cristella.

Staff from the City Commissioners’ Office, the Committee of Seventy and a seasoned poll worker will use the remaining 40 minutes to answer any other questions poll workers may have.

Philadelphia is slated to use 8,500 poll workers on Nov. 3. Commissioner Omar Sabir has said his office tried to strike a balance  between experienced workers who could troubleshoot any potential problems and recruiting new, younger people who would be less vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.

The city also created an hour-long virtual training video, which Kanofsky said did a thorough job at preparing people working the polling locations. Regardless, many first-time workers have raised additional questions and hypotheticals in a Facebook group for people working the general election.

“We knew there was still some anxiety out there and it would just be good to hold lots of time for poll workers to get those last-minute … questions answered,” said Cristella.

In addition to the Q&A sessions, the Committee of Seventy is also holding two additional information sessions called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting A Lot of Voters.” This also covers information on who poll workers can call if they notice any voter intimidation happening at their polling location.

People like Kanofsky say they have all the tools they need to be successful on Election Day,  but she’s happy for the supplemental training.

“I think it’s really helpful to have that,” she said.

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