Philly area counties say efforts to recruit poll workers for Election Day are paying off

After many veteran poll workers called out for the 2020 primary elections due to COVID-19, county officials ramped up recruitment for November. Those efforts paid off.

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)

A large part of making sure Election Day runs smoothly comes down to the people who greet you at your voting location and answer your questions: poll workers.

Spring primaries in the Philadelphia region showed just how essential these workers are and how they tend to be older and more vulnerable to complications from the coronavirus, which has caused more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. to date.

“We saw election board workers call out,” said Philadelphia City Commissioner Omar Sabir of the June primary. “There were certain locations where we couldn’t fill a vacancy up.”

This shortage of workers led to the consolidation of polling places in the city and translated to long waits for some voters.

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This time around, election officials are not taking any chances. Many continue to take poll worker applications or continue to actively recruit, but depending on where applicants live, the chances they’ll be called to work may be slim.

Philadelphia is one of the counties still actively recruiting workers in an effort to avoid a repeat of the primary during the Nov. 3 general election. With hazard pay, poll workers can make up to $255 for working the election, and that’s helped the county recruit more than 6,000 of the 8,500 poll workers it needs.

Meanwhile, other counties in the Philadelphia suburbs are happy to report they’ve already acquired the necessary poll workers and have set aside backups.

Montgomery County, for example, is no longer recruiting poll workers after an “overwhelming response,” according to a county spokesperson.

Similarly, Bucks County is on track to have all the poll workers it needs, as well as a pool of backups, according to spokesman Larry King.

King said the process of assigning the 1,500 to 1,800 poll workers needed for the election is ongoing, and while the county is confident there won’t be a shortage of workers in November, officials aren’t turning anyone away, per se.

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“We’re happy to have them,” he said. “We’re just counseling them that because we do have so many people who are able to work for the polls just to be patient in waiting for a response.”

Even if a county has all the workers it needs, the general thinking among elections officials in the region is it can’t hurt to take someone’s information — it’s 2020 after all, and you can’t be too prepared.

In Delaware’s New Castle County, for example, officials have found all the veteran poll workers who might call out because of coronavirus fears have done so already.

County Director Tracey Dixon said whoever is calling out now is likely unable to work because of a scheduling conflict.

“They thought they had off [work] and then they don’t or something else came up,” said Dixon, adding that this is where the backups come in.

And election officials still have gaps they’d like to fill. For example, tech-savvy people are encouraged to apply in New Castle, said Dixon. The state got new voting machines and poll books last year, and Dixon said the county likes to pair people who are more comfortable with the technology with others who don’t find it as intuitive.

Rich Ambrosino, commissioner at the Camden County Board of Elections in New Jersey, said bilingual Spanish speakers are always in need there.

Still, like so many of his counterparts in the region, Ambrosino said recruiting poll workers for the fall has been much easier than it was in the spring.

“I think that might be because the [COVID-19] numbers are coming down in New Jersey, especially in our county, so people feel more comfortable,” he said.

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