Election 2020: Most counties lag state goal for poll workers

Voters cast their votes at the First Christian Church on Middle Urbana Road in 2018. Eric Higgenbotham/STAFF
Voters cast their votes at the First Christian Church on Middle Urbana Road in 2018. Eric Higgenbotham/STAFF

Most area counties remain short of the state’s target for poll workers, according to new state data, but local elections officials believe they will close the gap.

Many elections officials worried the pandemic would mean Ohio wouldn’t have enough poll workers this November. More than 44,000 people have signed up to work the election so far, but that number remains below the Secretary of State’s goal.

“Ohioans are stepping up in a big way to defend democracy, but there is more work to do,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said.

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The state is collecting for the first time extensive poll worker data from each of the 88 county boards of elections prior to an election. Ohio’s Poll Worker Tracker will be updated weekly until the election. Boards of elections are required to notify the Secretary of State’s Office by Friday, Oct. 2, of any election official shortages.

The state’s goal of 55,588 trained and committed poll workers was calculated by multiplying by 1.5 the minimum number of poll workers per precinct required by law, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. The number is designed to handle the election should precinct officials cancel or fail to show up.

Clark County is among just nine counties statewide and the only local one to meet the goal as of last week, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Clark County needs 228 poll workers from each party on Election Day. So far, 383 Democrats and 440 Republicans have committed to work the polls, exceeding the minimum needed and reaching the state goal for reserve elections officials.

Jason Baker, director of the Clark County Board of Elections, said recruitment efforts by the Secretary of State coupled with an already dedicated group of local poll workers helped the county reach its goal.

“We didn’t do anything special,” Baker said. “What we’re trying to do is keep the (poll workers) we have engaged.”

Baker said the county lost some veteran elections officials due to concern over the coronavirus, but picked up enough new committed poll workers through the Secretary of State’s sign-up page, social media posts and presentations to local service organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

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Montgomery County is behind its overall goal for attracting poll workers, but it exceeds the minimum number of election workers needed from both parties. The county reported 1,010 committed Democratic poll workers — 290 over the needed 720, and 795 committed Republicans — 74 more than the minimum.

Jan Kelly, Montgomery County’s elections director, told the Board of Elections members last week that employees were working to return calls to let prospective poll workers know they’ve been put on a reserve list.

“We’re inundated with requests to become a poll worker,” she said.

Multiple efforts have gone into boosting the number of poll workers, including allowing attorneys, certified public accountants and those with real estate licenses to receive continuing education credits for working the polls. A “Youth at the Booth” program also engages 17-year-olds, who are allowed to be poll workers in Ohio.

Despite those initiatives, Greene County lags far behind at attracting poll workers. The county needs 99 more committed Republican poll workers and 91 more committed Democrats than the minimum 292 needed from each party, according to the Secretary of State.

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But there’s no cause for panic less than six weeks from the election, said Llyn McCoy, Greene County’s elections director.

“I’m OK with the numbers we have right now. We’re still having people reach out to us,” she said.

Warren County, while also short of the state’s goal, has 81 more committed Republican poll workers than the minimum 364 needed. But data show the county needs 82 more committed Democrats to meet the minimum number to work precincts.

That gap will close, said Brian Sleeth, Warren County’s elections director.

“We have a waiting list of Democrats to sign up," he said. “What we’re doing right now is getting all of our seasoned people assigned first and then moving on to the extra people and give them assignments, because we can’t have all new people in one polling location.”

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Miami County is also short of the minimum number of poll workers needed in both parties, still requiring 64 Democrats and 30 Republicans to commit to working the polls, according to the state’s figures.

“We might be a little bit farther behind where we would like to be, but at the same time we are way over staffing the number that we typically would do,” said Laura Bruns, Miami County Board of Elections director.

Bruns said the number will improve over the next week: “We will be in pretty good shape.”

“In a typical year, you’re doing it up until the last day,” she said.

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Butler County — needing a minimum 608 poll workers from each party — reported 138 more committed Democrats than needed but remained short 18 committed Republicans, according to the Secretary of State’s report Wednesday.

But Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan said there is no shortage of poll workers and the county plans to place two extra at every location.

“We have enough. We’re very, very fortunate,” Noonan said.

Butler County reported 943 other committed poll workers, representing those who are are not affiliated with either major political party. The number also includes students signed up to work Election Day, Noonan said.

Champaign County is short five committed Democratic poll workers; Darke county short the minimum Democrats by eight; and Preble County needs 36 more committed Democrats and 18 Republicans, according to the state data.

Kelly said the Secretary of State’s recruitment goals for the November election came after an unprecedented March primary, as the then-emerging pandemic caused many poll workers to back out of serving. The primary election was extended more than a month and shifted to mail-in voting.

“The difference in the numbers is for cancellations and backups for Election Day," she said. “This year’s presidential primary saw huge poll worker cancellations in the last weeks leading up to the primary. This is Plan B.”

Information about serving as a poll worker can be found at VoteOhio.gov/DefendDemocracy. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 5.

Staff Writer Bonnie Meibers contributed to this story.

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