Absentee mail-in ballots are getting most of the attention in the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, but in Ohio, county election officials have a much more potentially serious problem to deal with: a shortage of people to work the polling places on Election Day.
That's the kind of shortage that could lead to mass confusion, long lines, frayed nerves and angry voters on an Election Day that is already going to be difficult enough for election officials.
Tuesday morning, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose held a Statehouse press conference in Columbus to update the Ohio media on what is likely to be the highest turnout election in the 217-year history of the state.
And he spent a considerable amount of time practically begging Ohioans to consider becoming either Republican or Democratic poll workers in their counties' polling places.
“While our innovative recruitment campaigns appear to have put Ohio in a far better position than other states, we still have a long way to go,” said LaRose. “We still need more patriotic Ohioans to step up and serve our state as poll workers.”
LaRose said that data from the state's 88 county boards of elections show that most counties – including those in Southwest Ohio – are getting close to the minimum number of poll workers they need; about 26,000 more are needed statewide to be trained and ready to go on Election Day should there be a number of cancellations and no-shows among the already-recruited.
Many election officials are worried that if the threat of COVID-19 is still hanging over Ohio by Nov. 3 – and there is little reason to believe it won't be – there will be substantial numbers of poll workers who will decide not to work, rather than be potentially exposed to the virus in crowded polling places.
LaRose and county election officials have instituted a number of new ways to recruit poll workers, including:
- Give a Day for Democracy
- Partnering with businesses to offer employees the day off to be poll workers. Secretary LaRose announced this initiative with an event in Cincinnati – Western & Southern Financial is allowing employees to work the polls with a paid day off and so are many other companies.
- Professionals Getting Education Credit to Serve
- Lawyers for Liberty – Attorneys will receive required continuing legal education credits for being a poll worker this year.
- The Accountancy Board of Ohio (ABO) will now allow Ohio Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) to obtain required Continuing Public Education (CPE) general credits for CPAs serving as poll workers in 2020.
- Second Call to Duty
- This initiative is asking veterans who took an oath to defend their country to defend democracy on Nov. 3.
- Work the Day, Share Your Pay
- Poll workers can donate their earnings to a nonprofit or charity of their choice.
- Youth at the Booth
- In Ohio, 17-year-old high school seniors can serve as poll workers. This is a great way to engage high school students in the voting process; and the young people are often better suited to deal with the new technology of voting than older poll workers.
In Hamilton County, the goal is to have 3,738 poll workers trained by Election Day. The minimum needed in Hamilton County is 2,492. Sherry Poland, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said the county has almost all the Democratic poll workers it needs but is still short of Republicans.