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Poll workers still needed: ‘A lot of people just canceled’

Just days before voters cast ballots in Montgomery County, elections officials say they still need more than 100 Republican poll workers.

What prompted the shortage of Republican-affiliated election officials isn’t clear, said Jan Kelly, the Montgomery County Board of Elections director who first made the plea Wednesday.

“It’s an anomaly this year that we need this many,” Kelly said. “A lot of people just canceled. Longtime people that worked the polls just didn’t return and say, ‘Hey, I’ll work again.’ They didn’t show up for class. They didn’t return our phone calls.”

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Kelly said it takes about 1,600 precinct election officials to run the county’s 360 precincts. Statewide, about 35,000 poll workers will be needed Tuesday, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. But a spokesman for the office said Thursday no other counties have reported a shortage similar to Montgomery County’s.

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As of Thursday, the Montgomery County elections board needed to find Republicans to fill 20 voting location manager positions — those with expanded duties — and another 100 precinct workers.

The Board of Elections tries to field two Democrats and two Republicans at each precinct to ensure fairness, Kelly said.

“These volunteers help safeguard the process so all Ohioans can have confidence in the results,” she said.

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A 2016 study by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that a vast majority of poll workers are over age 40, with more than half over age 60 and 24 percent aged 71 or older. Just 17.8 percent of poll workers were 40 or younger working the 2016 election.

Elections officials interviewed for the study reported that recruiting poll workers is a recurring and difficult challenge. Of the jurisdictions responding, 46.9 percent reported having a somewhat difficult or very difficult time recruiting poll workers, compared with 22.7 percent that reported having a somewhat easy or very easy time. The research showed similar numbers in 2012.

Kelly, a Republican, said an improved economy could be one factor leading to the lack of poll workers.

“The recession is over. People are back to work,” she said. “People may not want to take off a full day to serve at the polls.”

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Mark Owens, chairman of the county Democrats, said there is no dire shortage of poll workers from his party heading into next week, but said it is sometimes a struggle to fill the vital positions.

“It’s hard to get people to do that for the amount of money they pay, so they have to be really dedicated to our society and to fair elections,” Owens said.

Election workers are able to earn $105 to $120 on Nov. 6. Workers must be at an assigned polling location from 5:45 a.m. until polls close at 7:30 p.m., providing their own transportation.

Ohio election law requires each precinct to have a voting location manager named from the party winning the last gubernatorial election.

In 2014, Republican Gov. John Kasich easily won re-election against a scandal-ridden Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat. Kasich won 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Montgomery, where nearly 80 percent of the precincts went for Kasich, so those precincts will have Republican voting location managers heading the poll workers.

While that doesn’t necessarily change the overall number of officials needed at a voting location, it does require a Republican when other positions could be filled by qualified unaffiliated poll workers, Kelly said.

Kelly said the current shortage will not change where people vote on Tuesday.

“We will get it done,” she said. “We always do.”

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