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Being a poll worker in the era of the coronavirus

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poll workers illustration
Sam Ford/THE REVIEW
This year, polling places and poll workers face a more daunting environment than is typical of these elections due to COVID-19.

 

BY
Managing News Editor

AND
Associate News Editor

AND
Associate News Editor

This article is a multi-state analysis of poll workers and poll sites for the upcoming general election on Nov. 3. It covers four states: Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Although vote-by-mail has been established and many have elected to vote absentee this year, states will keep polling places open regardless.

This year, polling places and poll workers face a more daunting environment than is typical of these elections due to COVID-19.

The Coronavirus’ impact on Election Day led to a significant shortage of poll workers across the nation, as the majority of these workers are typically over the age of 60 and would therefore be at a greater risk for experiencing the adverse effects of the virus. Nationally, two-thirds of poll workers who worked the 2018 general election were over the age of 61. Out of 637,713 poll workers across 45 states, a little over 104,500 workers were under the age of 40.

The presidential election is not one election: It is, in reality, 50 separate elections run by each respective state, each with their own electoral regulations. Consequently, the experience of poll workers varies state-by-state.


Delaware

The First State has seen quite a normal election season thus far, with the scheduled primaries and debates running with few hiccups.

In 2016, Delaware’s population sat at 948,921. According to the State of Delaware Elections System Report, that same year, 445,228 voted out of the 679,027 total registered voters statewide — a rate of 66%. Of those voters, 212,095 were registered Democrats and 136,554 were registered as Republicans. The remaining 96,579 voters voted for third-party candidates or write-ins.

The Delaware Department of Elections (DDE) website publicizes voter registration totals by political party, confirming that there are 735,293 registered voters statewide as of Oct. 1, 2020. Of those voters, 130,671 are located in Kent County, which swung from Democratic to Republican in the 2016 election. New Castle County has 423,421 voters, which typically votes Democrat, and 181,191 in Sussex County, which typically votes Republican.

All registered voters received the ability to vote from home. In requesting an absentee ballot, Delaware had no stipulations nor requested any “excuses” — all registered voters who requested an absentee ballot received an absentee ballot application, whether or not they had COVID-19 concerns.

There are secure ballot drop boxes located in every county office — including New Castle, Kent and Sussex — as well as in the lobby of the Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington, according to the DDE website. It is specified that ballots are not allowed to be dropped off at polling places, but drop boxes will accept all ballots until the polls close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Although many chose to utilize the option of mail-in voting this election, many voters will still choose to vote physically on Election Day.

With COVID-19 still raging in Delaware — more than 24,500 cases and 689 deaths as of Oct. 28 — and the fact that older age groups (50 and older) have proven to be at greater risk for the disease, election officials previously said they needed more poll workers for the general election. All polling places will be open on Nov. 3.

Delaware required approximately 3,300 poll workers for the general election. On Oct. 11, the State was still recruiting for the remaining 700 positions that were not yet filled.

To help combat this shortage, David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at the University of Delaware, began an independent study program for the fall semester. The program offered students the opportunity to gain one credit hour if they became a poll worker for the general election.

Redlawsk said students are assigned readings, including academic research on issues in election administration and blog posts from poll workers describing their experiences. Research topics vary between racial disparities in wait time, questions about voter IDs and issues of descriptive representation by poll workers.

Redlawsk stated he had to “seek approval for students to work under UD auspices,” meaning that he had to wait for the Delaware Board of Elections (BOE) to confirm their set pandemic precautions for course approval. This caused a slight delay, and the course was approved at “nearly the start of the semester.”

“Because we started late, we ended up with just five students,” Redlawsk said. “If it goes well, I hope to do this regularly.”

As of Nov. 2, Anthony Albence, state election commissioner, said that they expect “all [3,300 poll workers] to be working on Election Day.” Those five students that signed up for the course and Redlawsk himself helped detract from Delaware’s previous 700-worker deficit. All six will be heading to the polls to work come Nov. 3.

Redlawsk said he had never personally been a poll worker before but thought he should have the “same experience” as his students. However, he has been involved in elections for many years, citing his experience as a partisan of both major parties, a member of the Hillsborough Township Committee, an authorized poll watcher for a candidate and the fact that he is currently serving a three-year term as a member on the City of Newark’s Board of Elections.

Redlawsk said it is always a challenge to get people to become poll workers.

“The key going forward is getting more young people — including college students — involved in this important democratic process,” Redlawsk said. “The system only works if regular citizens become involved. It’s also partly what protects our system — the influx of people who otherwise don’t work for the government administering election procedures.”

Redlawsk called the need for poll workers during elections “significant, and especially this year,” citing poll workers’ commonly older age as well as the pandemic’s greater risk to older demographics.

In a move which could exacerbate the danger of the pandemic, the state of Delaware does not require citizens to wear masks at polling places. Like many other states, including the ones covered in this article, masks are not mandatory for in-person voting at the Delaware polls this year. The current priority appears to be efficiency, with mask enforcement being strongly encouraged but not required.

Gov. John Carney commented on the decision during his previous weekly COVID-19 press briefing, stating that his administration “recommends” that masks are worn. He further added that Delaware utilized vote-by-mail for this election to lower the risk and spread of COVID-19 but that the DDE makes election-centric decisions based on recommendations from the Delaware Department of Public Health.

“I am personally disappointed that the state Department of Justice [DOJ] apparently told the BOE that masks for voters could not be required,” Redlawsk said. “It’s easy to put on a mask, and so I don’t see how it interferes with the right to vote. But that is what we were told the DOJ decided.”

The general consensus is similar across state lines: It is up to poll workers, personally armed with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to get voters in and out of polling centers smoothly and quickly. Those that show up to a polling place maskless will receive the option to use a mask, as polls will have extra masks at the ready.

“Election workers are expected to wear masks,” Redlawsk said. “Gloves will also be available. The protocol includes disinfecting the machine screen after every use. And of course, keeping people physically distanced at least six feet whenever possible. We also don’t allow people into the polling place unless they are actively in the process of voting.”

Poll workers arrive at their poll sites at 6 a.m. in order to have them open and ready for voters at 7 a.m. Although polls officially close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, all voters that are in line at that time will still be able to vote, and all poll workers therefore stay until “the work is done — usually about 9:30 p.m.,” according to the DDE website.

All poll workers are trained prior to the election in order to learn every polling center and voting machine procedure. Other positions are broken down into three groups: inspector, judge and clerk, who all have different tasks to execute on Election Day.

Poll workers in Delaware enforce proof of identity and will request some form of identification. Valid types of IDs may include: a Delaware driver’s license or state-issued ID, a U.S. passport, a signed polling place or social security card, signed vehicle registration, a signed credit card with photo or similar documents that may identify the person by either a photograph or a signature.

“I’m glad the campaigns are nearly over,” Redlawsk said. “I’m a political scientist who studies this stuff, and I get excited by it, but given the challenges facing the country, we need to be able to focus there, rather than on campaigning. Once we know who wins, we can turn back to dealing with the challenges going forward. Personally, I am very much looking forward to my stint as a poll worker, supporting the election process, and doing my best in my own small way to make it go smoothly.”


New York

Allison Rapp, a 21-year-old journalism student in her last semester at Brooklyn College, is going to be a poll worker for the very first time come Nov. 3.

She said the idea to work the polls this year partially took root from seeing posts “floating around” on social media like Instagram and Facebook, and it seemed that she could fit it into her schedule. Rapp said she voted absentee “weeks ago,” fulfilling her civic duty and decided she wanted to help other people fulfill theirs as well.

“I also consider[ed] the idea that usually when you go to polling sites and polling locations, you see a lot of elderly, retired people running these things,” Rapp said. “And they’re not doing it this year, because of COVID concerns, which is perfectly reasonable and understandable. I think there’s a bit more of an onslaught of young people doing this type of work, and I wanted to be a part of that, as well.”

The City of New York is currently experiencing a “critical shortage” of poll workers. According to the state’s Board of Elections website, “55% of all New York’s poll workers are over the age of 60, making them especially vulnerable to the pandemic,” resulting in a “significant need” for replacements.

Rapp, like many other poll workers on the younger end of the spectrum, said her participation had a lot to do with the fact that this is the first presidential election that she can vote in.

“I was 17-and-a-half when the 2016 election happened, and I remember feeling so, so mad that I was so close,” Rapp said. “And I couldn’t do anything about it obviously … I registered to vote as soon as I could, I made sure that I was a registered Democrat so that I could vote in the primaries.”

She said that now that the majority of people are working remotely, it might be easier for people who may not typically have the flexibility in their schedules to get involved at the polls.

“If it keeps vulnerable people out of harm’s way, then why not?” Rapp said.

Rapp submitted an application with very basic personal information such as her name, age and career. The application additionally asked what type of work the applicant might be most comfortable with, and if they had any skill sets, such as if they speak a second language and would be interested in acting as an interpreter.

In “less than a week,” Rapp received a response to her application and was initially assigned to be an “accessibility clerk.” This position was described by her as “the person that … puts all the signage up for handicapped entrances,” makes sure ramps are in place and essentially ensures that anyone with a disability “still has full and complete access to the voting site.”

Initially, Rapp said she was not even aware that there was compensation for the work, but New York City poll workers get paid a flat rate of $250 per day they work. They also receive $25 for attending the training class, which was a “painless,” two-hour long class that Rapp said was akin to a typical college class. She said this was something that she would have done for free anyway but that the compensation was an added bonus.

“The instructor was really clear and straightforward with his instructions, [he] answered every question,” Rapp said. “He really made it clear that we, the poll workers, are what keeps this operation running, and it couldn’t be done without the people who essentially volunteer their time and energy to do this.”

Poll workers are outfitted with physical paper manuals at training and are encouraged to bring said manuals when they show up to the poll sites on Election Day so they can reference as needed. On top of their actual position requirements, all poll workers show up to poll sites early for their pre-opening responsibilities such as setting up tables, signage and placing stickers on the ground for distancing, and stay after polls are closed for their closing responsibilities as well.

Rapp said she and all other poll workers — possibly around 15 to 20 people at Rapp’s site — will be at the polls at 5 a.m. on Election Day. At 9 p.m., when the polls close, a police officer will cap the end of the line, and poll workers stay until every person in line has voted and left before cleaning up.

Apart from an otherwise smooth process, Rapp was not assigned a poll site seven to 10 days before the election. By the time she called the NYC Board of Elections as advised, she was told that the positions for accessibility clerks had been filled in her area. The Board transferred her to a new division where Rapp was retrained, and she is now working as a line management clerk at a local public school in Brooklyn.

Line management clerks are “assigned to work the line of voters by looking up Election District/Assembly District information, announce frequently to the line of voters that anyone who is only dropping off an absentee ballot does not need to wait in line, offers face masks to voters who aren’t wearing one and reminds voters to have their ‘Voter Fast Pass Tag’ ready for a contactless check in at their Election District table.”

“I think I’m gonna like this a bit more, because it allows me to interact with voters more directly, and kind of be around people a little bit more all day,” Rapp said.

All poll workers are briefed on situations they can expect to encounter during training, such as media showing up to poll sites, voters who may not want to wear a mask and electioneering (soliciting or advocating for votes for a certain candidate).

“Electioneering cannot happen; we cannot have those people or anyone promoting those messages within 100 feet of the poll site …” Rapp said. “There are rules and signage posted throughout in terms of what you can and cannot do, and those will be strictly enforced. There is a main point person for each election site, the coordinator — any problems, any hiccups, any altercations, get reported to them.”

Police presence will “be around,” as Rapp said that poll workers have to get the keys to the poll sites from police in the early morning. Rapp said she has not really thought about security at the poll sites too much, as she doesn’t think anything will happen, but “if push comes to shove, police presence will be there, if needed.”

Similar to many other states, as well as the ones covered in this article, New York is not requiring potential voters to don a mask at or inside poll sites.

“We, the workers, are absolutely, positively required to wear a mask at all times, no exceptions whatsoever,” Rapp said. “I believe that as a line management clerk, I am going to be wearing gloves … [but] part of my job is having personal protective equipment on hand, extra masks and that kind of thing, to give out to voters who show up in line who aren’t wearing one.”

According to Rapp, voters are not legally required in any way to wear masks and do not have to wear one if they refuse — they are still entitled to vote. The protocol for these situations is to “typically just get them in and out as quickly as possible [and] keep them six feet away from other people.”

Regardless of mask implementation for voters, New York polling sites are designed with social distancing guidelines in mind. These include keeping voters six feet apart in line, having markers six feet apart inside the site and having sneeze guards and Plexiglas shields between information clerks’ desks and voters who are checking in. Rapp said capacity might typically be a quarter of the maximum capacity of the particular room voters will be in.

New York’s polling sites, similar to other states’, will have secure drop boxes for their absentee ballots. A few voting machines will also be made available for those with disabilities, but poll sites are primarily utilizing paper ballots and privacy booths.

Rapp said she has no plans to get tested prior to Election Day, as she is currently exhibiting no COVID-19 symptoms and is experiencing nothing worrying in that regard, but plans to get one done a few days after working the polls, “for her own peace of mind.”

“I know that I can go somewhere here in the city of New York and get it done totally for free, and that I have the access to that no matter what,” Rapp said. “But … this is also coming from someone who — not to pat myself on the back or anything — but, I’ve been following the rules, I wear a mask when I go out, I kept my circle really, really small.”

Due to this, and due to her age, Rapp considers herself to be the “prime candidate” to be doing this type of work and sees herself to be in the “least amount of danger, so to speak.”

In New York, the statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 is at 1.49% as of Oct. 31. The state has seen more than 514,000 cases and more than 33,150 deaths as of Nov. 1. New York City has suffered the bulk of the cases, with more than half of all cases in the state centered in the city, at more than 268,000 cases.

New York typically hires 85,000 poll workers for general elections, meaning that about 46,750 of those workers are usually over the age of 60. Rapp contextualized her position as a young person with the ability to work the polls.

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I took a step back and thought, ‘Okay, I’m a young, able-bodied person with no underlying health conditions that would cause complications with COVID; I am probably the perfect example of someone who should be working at an event like this,’” Rapp said. “Because I am one of the least vulnerable people possible, so that in and of itself makes me feel really good [about working Election Day safely].”

Rapp said she trusts the New York City government’s handling of the virus, alluding to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials’ mitigation efforts since March.

“Working in a city that has taken the virus quite seriously — I don’t think I would do this if I was, say, someone who was living in Montgomery [Alabama],” Rapp said. “I trust the city of New York, and I trust the Board of Elections. And I’ve seen that through the training that they are taking this very seriously.”

Over 1.1 million people in New York City voted early, 373,000 of whom live in Brooklyn. Early voting closed Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4 p.m., and due to these promising numbers, Rapp feels more settled about Election Day.

“I think that because of all the early voting action going on, Tuesday’s not going to be quite so much of a frenzy,” Rapp said. “I think people are going to be a little bit calmer … people that are waiting all the way until Tuesday are kind of pushing it, but I think it’s going to be overall a decent, flowing experience.”

Rapp discussed that she thinks the general consensus about poll sites and coordinating poll workers are just “thrown together in the three weeks before [it happens],” but in reality, there are people working 52 weeks a year to plan elections out and to ensure that everything is ready for this election season.

“Most people, the majority of people have not had a single bad thing to say about [voting],” Rapp said. “They said, ‘Yeah, I waited a really long time. I brought a snack, I brought a book and I was glad to do it,’ So, I think if that kind of energy and that kind of attitude persists all the way until Tuesday, then yeah, it’s going to go smoothly. I think the city has done a good job of making sure the logistics are in place.”

Rapp said she is confident in how the City has handled voting thus far. Rapp also said that besides not being the most extroverted person, she knows that she will be fine as soon as she gets to the site on Tuesday.

“And I feel really good about it,” Rapp said. “I’m excited. I think it’s going to actually be a fun time.”


New Jersey

Audrey VanBuskirk-Hoge, a retired secretary previously employed at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and librarian Cathy Prince, are both registered poll workers in Piscataway, Middlesex County, New Jersey.

VanBuskirk-Hoge has been a poll worker in Piscataway since 2004. Prior to that, he worked as a challenger in Woodbridge.

According to the 2016 Middlesex County District Board Training Guide, challengers are certain people who are certified to “challenge any questionable voter’s names, address or other qualifications.” Challengers may ask for supplemental documents, but they must follow all of the procedures listed on the guide and make sure the challenge is warranted.

VanBuskirk-Hoge was registered as an Independent but became a Republican when she applied to become a poll worker in Middlesex County, which is a heavily Democratic area.

“Since I’m really an Independent, I registered as a Republican because I really watch both sides of an issue and see what each party has to say,” VanBuskirk-Hoge said. “And I thought that it would be good to do my civic duty.”

Prince said she has been a poll worker for over 10 years in Summit, but this is her first year working in Piscataway.

“The reason I chose to work this election [is that] although I do believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, I want to see how the process works,” Prince said.

VanBuskirk-Hoge said that poll workers are required to be American citizens and “are mandated by law” to renew their training every two years. She said that poll workers earn an additional amount of money when they attend training, otherwise they receive a flat rate of $200.

“It’s not a voluntary position; it’s a paid position,” VanBuskirk-Hoge said. “I didn’t know that at the time because when I lived in Woodbridge and was a challenger; that was not a paid position, back in those days.”

Prince said she is not concerned about COVID-19 because, as a librarian, she works in a location that has been fully open since July and has been exposed to the public numerous times as a result.

“So, personally speaking, I think that wearing a mask and using sanitizer is really good,” Prince said. “When I go online, I don’t see people that are concerned about the coronavirus and not going to the polls, but that’s just my sense.”

Both Prince and VanBuskirk-Hoge confirmed that coronavirus precautions will “absolutely” be in place throughout the election season.

VanBuskirk-Hoge said that the number of polling places in Piscataway was reduced to four locations this year. As a result of the closure of Our Lady of Fatima Church, VanBuskirk-Hoge’s previously assigned location, she is not working the polls this year.

“Since there will be a reduced number of polling books, it’s not as important that someone go to the exact same place they’ve always gone,” Prince said.

Prince said that no one will use the voting machine unless they are disabled and provide verification. There are procedures and challengers in place to verify that voters that use the machines do not commit fraud.

Many counties in New Jersey, Middlesex included, purchased new voting machines that make voting easier and are more “open-air” as opposed to a curtain. According to Prince, some counties still have the old machines because the new ones cost a lot of money.

The new voting machines, which came out in 2020, have touchscreens and the ballots can be translated into Spanish and Gujarati, a language spoken primarily in Western India. The new machines notably have a paper record that allows voters to verify that the information is correct before submitting their votes. The poll workers can also audit the paper record as well.

“Personally, I don’t see why we are not voting on machines,” Prince said. “If you vote and then you say, ‘Oh no, I didn’t mean to do that,’ you can actually go back and correct, and they’re really fabulous.”

Prince said that everyone has a right to vote, but “not necessarily by machine.” This resulted in many people arguing with her over the Middlesex County voting procedures.

“I’ll say to them, ‘Look, I’m a poll worker. This is not a partisan statement. I am telling you the procedure,’ and they will not accept it,” Prince said. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

Security is one of Prince’s main concerns on Election Day. She believes that having a police officer or a security guard would be necessary, because anybody can walk into the building and stragglers often try to force their way in after hours. Prince called the New Jersey Election Board to ask about security, and said they dodged the question.

“I was very nice,” Prince said. “I explained that I was a poll worker, and I was concerned about security. And they acted like I was asking for a nuclear secret. I was a little bit dismayed that there seemed to be a sort of resentment when I asked what I consider to be a simple, yet useful question.”

As a result of COVID-19, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy mandated that every registered voter will be mailed a ballot to send in. Unlike absentee ballots, which have to be requested through the election board, these ballots are “unasked for,” VanBuskirk-Hoge said.

VanBuskirk-Hoge said she is concerned that Murphy’s mandate leaves the election open to greater amounts of fraud.

Since the ballots are not requested, anyone can theoretically receive one, even those considered to be “illegal aliens,” and some New Jerseyans received ballots addressed to “dead people and out of state voters.”

The provisional ballots are supposed to be checked, but there is no way to verify if that is being done, VanBuskirk-Hoge went on to say.

“When it comes to voting [nationally] here in New Jersey, you’re supposed to be a citizen,” VanBuskirk-Hoge said. “However, there have been cases where [non-citizens] have gone into the motor vehicle department and gotten a license, and you’re allowed to use that license to go vote … that’s [one of] the reason[s] why there’s so much talk about voter fraud.”

Prince believes that voter fraud is a very big issue and that she doesn’t think there’s a great deal of confidence in the post office.

“I think many people, on either side of the aisle, want to use the election lockbox or drive it to the polling place because they feel their vote is very important, and they are concerned about safety and security,” Prince said.

VanBuskirk-Hoge and Prince are both cautiously optimistic that the election will play out smoothly and efficiently.

“They really did try to accommodate everyone because they want everyone eligible to vote, to get to vote,” VanBuskirk-Hoge said.


Pennsylvania

Voting in Centre County, Pennsylvania, home to Penn State University and nestled within the Appalachian Mountains, will also look a little bit different this year.

Michael Pipe, chair of the Board of Commissioners and vice-chair for the county’s Board of Elections, highlighted the options for voting in Centre County: early voting at the satellite elections office, voting at polling places on Election Day, voting by mail or by bringing a completed ballot to designated drop-boxes.

Centre County has about 162,000 residents, and according to Pipe, the county typically has about 80,000 people vote in presidential elections. Of those 80,000, Pipe said 35,000 to 45,000 requested vote-by-mail ballots this year. The percentage of the population that plans to vote by mail, however, varies based on precinct. In some precincts, the number of people planning to vote by mail is as high as 60%, whereas in others it is as low as 10% or 15%, according to Pipe.

No precinct expects the entirety of its population to vote by mail this year, leaving about half of Centre County’s expected voting population to rely upon open and staffed polling places.

Pipe said that unlike previous years, when Centre County’s poll workers underwent three or four training sessions in a large conference room, this year’s recruits are being trained over Zoom. During the primary elections in June, the county set up its own virtual training program for its poll workers. For the election in November, however, it will be using training materials from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Because mail-in voting has become much more popular during the coronavirus pandemic, Centre County’s poll workers had to receive training in new protocols as well. Pipe emphasized that poll workers were being trained in the new policy of allowing people who bring their mail-in ballot to polling places to surrender it, and instead vote at the polling place. This policy was previously implemented during the June primary election.

Although the poll workers must be trained online, Pipe does not believe that this will be any less effective than if it were in-person.. His only concern is the lack of hands-on training for voting machines. However, he said he is confident that even this will not pose a significant problem to the competency of the poll workers.

“We can sort of do [training for the machines] with them over the video and kind of act as their surrogate to push buttons or anything like that, but I think it’ll go very well, like it did in the primary,” Pipe said. “We’ll have a good turnout for the poll worker training, and then we’ll go from there, but now I’m very confident that it will be a smooth process.”

Pipe also said that the online format of the training has made it more accessible to those who want to work the polls but might have been deterred if the training had been held in-person.

Centre County has also seen an overall increase in people signing up to work the polls this election season. According to Pipe, there are typically 500 to 550 poll workers established throughout the county. This year alone, an additional 500 people signed up, leading to a surplus of potential poll workers.

“Going back to the conversation about social distancing, limiting the amount of people in a room, we haven’t been able to accommodate everybody,” Pipe said.

Pipe emphasized that the poll workers and those working to process mail-in ballots will be taking precautionary measures to try to limit the spread of coronavirus in these locations:

  • All poll workers will be required to wear masks with three-sided sneeze guards
  • There will be hand sanitizer at the entrances and exits of polling places
  • Polling places and vote-by-mail processing room will be overstaffed, just in case a poll worker is not feeling well and cannot come in
  • Blue tape will be placed on the floor as a marker for social distancing

Further, Pipe said that voters will not be required to wear masks.

“The voters — it’s up to them,” Pipe said. “We’re obviously strongly, strongly encouraging it, but they will not be denied the right to vote if they don’t have a mask on. We do think the vast, vast majority of people will.”

There will not be any special accommodations at polling places made for those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, for example the elderly and the immunocompromised. Pipe said that these groups were encouraged to either vote by mail, vote at their polling place during a slow time of day or to vote early at the satellite elections office, where masks are required.

Changes in typical voting norms have led to widespread questions of legitimacy and fears of votes not being counted. Pipe said that to quell these fears, both Centre County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been working to make the instructions that come with mail-in ballots explicitly clear. The Centre County Board of Elections has also partnered with the League of Women Voters and Penn State University to spread messages reminding voters to make sure they use the secrecy envelope as well as the standard envelope when submitting their ballots.

“I think it’s important for us as elected officials and as appointed officials within the election sphere, to explain what’s happening, and then take the time to create documents and create resources,” Pipe said.

In Delaware County, Henry Wolgast, a senior at the University of Delaware, signed up to be a poll worker to take the place of his grandmother who would typically be working the polls had the coronavirus not compelled her to stay home.

“I just saw this massive gap between the need, and who’s filling that need, and like, what that means this year, and then COVID,” Wolgast said. “So, I really wanted to step up.”

In Delaware County, Pennsylvania, poll workers are required to wear masks, maintain a six-foot distance from others and to frequently wash their hands and other surfaces. Additionally, polling locations will be equipped with “COVID-19 PPE Kits” that include “written COVID-19 procedures, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves, face masks, face shields, disposable pens and other items.”

Wolgast initially reached out to the Delaware County Department of Elections to become a poll worker in July but did not hear back from them aside from a message saying it would contact him in the future. Wolgast then turned to Power the Polls, a private organization that acts as a middleman between potential poll workers and their local government offices.

“Power the Polls has me on an emergency backup waitlist,” Wolgast said. “So, they’re gonna let me know on Election Day if backup poll workers are needed, and like 7:00 a.m. on Election Day, I’ll know if there’s a spot where I can fill in. So, at this point, it’s super frustrating because I’m not a poll worker.”

Given the national shortage of poll workers, Wolgast was surprised that he was not needed.

“People should, especially young people, reach out to become poll workers,” Wolgast said. “This isn’t just like a COVID time issue. In the future, this is going to be just as important; this shortage isn’t going to go away.”

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