Board of elections finding no shortage of volunteer poll workers

Sarah Sole
ThisWeek group
Dennis Yep (right), a voting location manager, helps Robert Lawson of Columbus on Oct. 6 during a poll-worker training session for volunteers to assist the Franklin County Board of Elections in the Nov. 3 general election. Aaron Sellers, a board of elections spokesman, said the board has received thousands of application requests from people who want to work the polls – and a larger amount than is typical.

Jayme Hitchcock said she had to call the Franklin County Board of Elections four times before she was able to speak to a staff member about scheduling training as a volunteer poll worker for Election Day on Nov. 3.

After she spoke to an employee on the phone, Hitchcock learned the reason for the delay, she said.

The staff member told her that in her 17 years as a board of elections employee, she had not seen interested poll-worker volumes this high, and staff members were struggling to schedule people, Hitchcock said.

“I totally understood,” the 33-year-old Columbus resident said.

Hitchcock is part of an unusually large group of volunteers who want to work the polls this November, according to the board of elections.

Aaron Sellers, a board of elections spokesman, said the board has received thousands of application requests from people who want to work the polls – and a larger amount than is typical.

Ned Martin of Columbus listens as Denise Smith leads an Oct. 6 poll-worker training session for volunteers assisting the Franklin County Board of Elections in the Nov. 3 general election.

Last November, 2,918 people volunteered as poll workers in Franklin County, Sellers said. This year, 5,572 people are signed up, he said.

Volunteers still are being sought and accepted, he said. Those interested should go to workelections.com or call 614-525-5393, he said. The Franklin County site is workelections.com/j/404/Franklin-County.

Sellers said board members knew risks were higher this year for their poll workers because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  

According to the Pew Research Center, in a typical election year, most poll workers are over 60 years old.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Knowing that some of their volunteers might choose not to work the polls during the pandemic, the board of elections worked with community businesses and organizations to help get the word out about the need for workers, Sellers said.

“The response has been unprecedented,” he said.

The response has been so great, Sellers said, that it has taken a while for board of elections staff members to get back to volunteers.

That’s been the case for Tara Koger.

As of Oct. 8, the 35-year-old Columbus resident said she had not heard back from the board of elections after submitting a volunteer form the week of Sept. 28.

Koger, who works in higher education, said her workplace offered a paid day off for volunteering at the polls. That, coupled with the knowledge that many older workers who typically would help out at the polls would be high risk this year, motivated her to volunteer, she said.

“And voting is important to me, so I felt the need to invest my time,” she said.

Denise Smith leads an Oct. 6 poll-worker training session for volunteers assisting the Franklin County Board of Elections in the Nov. 3 general election.

Hitchcock said she had similar motivations.

She said she became interested in volunteering several months ago, based on the fact that poll workers typically are senior citizens.

“I just wanted to help,” she said.

Hitchcock submitted a volunteer form in early August and received an email saying someone would contact her by September to schedule her for training. No one did, she said, so she called and left a voicemail message twice.

In late September, Hitchcock finally spoke to a staff member, who scheduled her for training and assigned her a polling location.  

An election day is a long one for poll workers, Hitchcock said. She will need to arrive at the voting location the evening prior to Nov. 3 to set up. Then she must arrive by 5:30 a.m. and stay the duration of the day, which should end by 8:30 p.m.

But she knows how she will handle it.

“Election Day adrenaline will be pumping,” she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah