Poll worker vaccination debate heats up in Miami County

Elections chairman wants to require vaccine; some poll workers say they won’t work if it’s required

TROY — Miami County’s Board of Elections continues to debate whether to require COVID-19 vaccinations for poll workers.

A proposal to require vaccinations was made in December by BOE Chairman Dave Fisher, who expressed concerns about the ongoing pandemic, including the deaths of people he knew.

The discussion continued at the board’s most recent meeting Jan. 26, when five poll workers and another county resident told the board they oppose a vaccine requirement. The current poll workers said they would not help on Election Day if there was a requirement.

Elections Director Laura Bruns said she had received more than 25 calls from poll workers following the previous discussion. They, too, said they would not work the polls if there was a vaccine requirement. The county hires at least 350 poll workers for a full election.

“I would like the board to consider abandoning this (vaccination discussion) altogether,” said Linda Ares of Tipp City. “I think this is a can of worms that you don’t want to go there. I think it will be a black eye on you.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, less than 46% of Miami County residents have completed COVID vaccination, compared with more than 56% statewide.

“I just don’t think our government has any permission to tell me what to put in my body, period,” said Mary Ellen Buechter of Piqua. “That includes this board.”

Board members appeared split on any requirement. A vote was not taken. If a vote would end in a tie, the Ohio Secretary of State would break the tie.

Board member Rob Long, a lawyer, said he reviewed the Secretary of State’s manual for precinct officials and poll workers.

“There is nothing in there that would give local Boards of Elections statutory authority to mandate a vaccine for precinct election officials,” Long said. He added if the board would impose requirements beyond what is called for in the manual, it could get sued.

Board member Jim Oda said he is very much in favor of vaccination and booster shots. “But mandating it? If the government/president can’t mandate it, I think we are hard-pressed to legally mandate it,” Oda said.

Bruns said she had checked with the Secretary of State’s office and was told there Is no state mandate for poll workers.

Fisher said he was told the Secretary of State was prepared to come out with a statement, but none had been made. If Secretary of State Frank LaRose wants to say “no” to vaccinations, Fisher said, a directive should be sent to the local election boards.

The board was asked to table the discussion to obtain legal opinions from both the county prosecutor’s office and the Secretary of State’s office.

Board member Audrey Gillespie said that in addition to a legal opinion on vaccination requirements, the board should seek an opinion on requiring masking by poll workers.

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.com

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