Early voting, coronavirus forcing election boards to plan early

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jan Kelly and Deputy Director Steve Harsman with new voting equipment this winter. STAFF PHOTO
Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jan Kelly and Deputy Director Steve Harsman with new voting equipment this winter. STAFF PHOTO

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent a readiness plan for the November 2020 election to area counties, mandating they recruit more poll workers, get personal protective equipment and relocate polling locations for vulnerable populations, among other points.

The Secretary of State’s Office will provide each county board of elections a block grant from the CARES Act. The amount will be determined by the number of registered voters in each county. No county will get less than $25,000. The CARES grant will be disbursed to each county in single up-front, lump sum amount.

Each county board of elections is required to use this funding to implement the requirements of the directive given by LaRose’s office.

Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said Montgomery County will get about $433,000 to implement the various points in the directive.

“We are very grateful to have the extra funds to procure the extra staff and supplies we’re going to need for this very, very special election,” Kelly said.

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Poll workers, staff

The directive says county boards of elections must recruit and train enough poll workers to satisfy the minimum required by state law to operate a precinct. Kelly said that the Montgomery County Board of Elections will be sending out a letter to potential poll workers on Friday. The county typically needs about 1,800 poll workers.

Ohio uses over 35,000 poll workers statewide. Boards must prepare for the possibility of poll worker shortages because of the pandemic. By Aug. 1, county boards of elections must send a survey to every poll worker who served previously within the last three years or who indicated to the board their interest in serving in the 2020 primary election. This is a significantly earlier deadline than in a normal election.

“We have already started to recruit more poll workers, but getting people will be one hurdle for us,” Kelly said.

During the primary, Kelly said many poll workers canceled because of the coronavirus.

Kelly said if anyone is interested in being a poll worker, they can call the Montgomery County Board of Elections at (937) 225-5656.

MORE: Mask order issued for Butler, Montgomery counties

Anyone already trained to be a poll worker can do training online; only new poll workers will have to do training in person.

LaRose’s directive said that he expects record-turnout and a higher reliance on absentee voting, so county boards are required to use the new federal dollars to boost temporary staffing ahead of the November election. Kelly said the Montgomery County Board of Elections will hire between 20 and 24 temporary staff members, about 20% more than the county would hire in a normal election year.

These part-time workers will work full days from Sept. 1 to the end of November.

County boards of elections have also been directed to use some of the funds to buy face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment for poll workers and voters.

Kelly said they plan to give out pens, face masks and hand sanitizer to everyone.

Voting in nursing homes

If a board of elections has not done so already, county boards of elections must relocate any polling location currently at a residential senior citizen facility or health care facility, even if voting takes place in a separate building on the same property, such as a community center or activity room. The Montgomery County Board of Elections did this for the primary.

County boards of elections must put a plan in place to send elections staff to senior living and health care facilities to safely help individuals cast their vote, or deputize facility personnel as Special Elections Officials so that they can vote.

“Our senior outreach program will need to be reviewed,” Kelly said. “I have serious concerns about sending staff to a nursing home that’s infected.”

Kelly said she needs to protect her staff, but also make sure residents in nursing homes or other senior living facilities can vote. Kelly said absentee voting may be the safest way for that population to vote.

“Nursing homes are going to present a difficulty,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that, per the directive, the board of elections is going to prepare to offer more curbside voting in November.

RELATED: Montgomery County unveils new voting machines

Paper ballots

LaRose’s directive encourages boards of elections to increase the minimum number of printed ballots, including absentee and provisional ballots.

Kelly said that because they will only be able to use half of their election equipment, the election will likely be mainly on paper ballots. The lines to use the new election equipment will likely be long because of social distancing protocols, so Kelly said many voters may chose to vote on a paper ballot because it will be quicker.

Kelly said the length of the lines on election day will depend on how many people vote via absentee ballot this November.

“There are going to be long lines. Expect long lines when you go to vote,” Kelly said. “This election is going to be a little bit slower.”

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