Young U.S. election officials prepare for election day as virus fears keep elders at home

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Polling officers prepare absentee ballots for the general election in Raleigh

By Julia Harte and John Whitesides

(Reuters) – After struggling to replace an aging force of election officials most at risk from coronavirus, U.S. election officials face the challenge of leading the November 3 vote with untested volunteers tasked with following protocols strict health in an intensely partisan environment.

A nationwide campaign that has recruited hundreds of thousands of young poll workers – the people who set up equipment, register voters and process ballots – means most of the battlefield states will not be under- workforce, according to a Reuters review of Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio. , Pennsylvania and Wisconsin found.

In nearly all of these states, more election officials have already been recruited than worked in the 2016 presidential election, according to data from the United States Electoral Assistance Commission, state election officials, and recruitment drives private election officials. Wisconsin did not have complete data.

New election officials need to be trained not only in routine election tasks, but also in matters of particular relevance in 2020, such as how to deal with voters who violate COVID-19 security rules and how to defuse political confrontations.

In a year in which armed militiamen clashed with protesters, some voting rights activists feared armed groups would show up outside polling stations.

They are also concerned about the highly unusual Republicans’ willingness to deploy thousands of poll observers as part of efforts to find evidence to support President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated complaints about widespread voter fraud.

Although more than 20 million Americans have already voted and many more still expect to vote early in person or by mail, about a third to almost half of voters in critical battlefield states expect to vote on November 3, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll.

“The multitude and scale of the problems that polling officers will face in this election are unprecedented,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

Their success in handling these situations could mean the difference between a confidence-inspiring election between Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden or the turmoil seen in the primaries earlier this year when thousands of older poll workers resigned in the middle. concerns about COVID-19.

In Wisconsin, a dramatic reduction in the number of polling stations caused by a shortage of poll workers in April forced voters to risk their health by queuing for hours to vote.

As these issues became evident, election officials and activist groups, including the Poll Hero Project and Power the Polls, a coalition of voting rights, civic organizations and businesses, began to seek solutions. volunteers to engage in the breach.

The new recruits are much younger than usual. Of the more than 920,000 election officials nationwide in the 2016 election, more than 56 percent were over 60, according to the U.S. Electoral Assistance Commission.

In contrast, nearly 90 percent of the more than 650,000 election officials who have been referred to local officials by Power the Polls this year are under 65, said co-founder Robert Brandon. The Poll Hero Project has recruited more than 31,000 students, more than half of whom are high school students, said co-founder Ella Gantman, 19, a student at Princeton University.


Election officials said general interest in ballot work was encouraging and stimulating.

In rural Isabella County, Michigan, Clerk Minde Lux said she hired and trained her poll workers months ago, but her office is still inundated with calls from future polling officers in as part of a recruitment program administered by the Office of the Secretary of State. She said she ran out of time and money to train additional volunteers.

“We’re just trying to keep our heads above water, but then people get mad at us, like, ‘Oh you don’t want us to be working in the polls,’” she said.

Jacob Major, 17, is one of the new faces who will be working on the polls in his Milwaukee neighborhood. Major, who now leads the Wisconsin Poll Hero Project campaign, said many recent recruits are vulnerable to last-minute cancellations because young people have less control over their lives. He is also worried the city has yet to tell him when his training will take place.

Too young to vote on his own, Major said nothing would stop him from running on election day.

“Being a polling agent and helping so many young people to register as polling agents is my way of voting,” he said.

In Milwaukee, where the decision to reduce the number of polling stations from 180 to five in the primary due to a lack of electoral officials has led to disarray, the number of polling stations on November 3 will drop to at least 173, a Jonatan declared. Zuniga, Deputy Director of the Election Commission for the City of Milwaukee.

Zuniga said nearly 2,600 new election officials have signed up for the training and 1,000 more veterans will return, which would result in a big increase from the city’s 2,653 election officials in 2016, according to data from US Election Assistance. Commission.

Yet, with the increase in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, Zuniga said he plans to create a pool of 200 standby workers who would be dispatched on November 3 if more do not show up.

“We will monitor this and see how many people back down,” he said. “But at the moment we are in good shape.”

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