Grand Traverse County Clerks Facing Election Worker Shortage
"I’ve never seen anything like this."
Some clerks across the state are reporting a potential shortage of poll workers for next week’s Primary. And it’s due in large part to the rules about masks.
Technically, the state deadline to hire poll worker came and went. Then just a few days later the Governor’s Executive Order about the use of masks inside polling places. Wolfgang says, “July 14th was our deadline to appoint election workers. On July 17th the Governor issued her Executive Order that voters were not required to wear masks in polling places.”
The point of the order, says Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele, was to avoid discouraging voters from showing up at the polls. But as a result it’s had an impact on the workers. “You need quite a few workers, especially on a busy election day. There’s been some concern that some of their workers have decided they cannot work. They’re feeling it’s a little too risky.” Scheele says she’s heard this from several township clerks.
Wolfgang has experienced that first hand since the Governor’s announcement earlier this month. “Since then I have had numerous election workers drop out. Three just today, because of concerns.” It’s not because the workers are being forced to wear masks. It’s because voters aren’t. “They say, they are either at a higher risk because of their own health. Or they take care of a parent or family member whose health is compromised. And they say, ‘I just can’t do it.’”
Renee Stevens has been working on Election Days for 20 years. Even she hesitated about working this year, but decided to go ahead and sign up. “I even had to think about it. But you know, I am not fearful of what’s going to happen. God’s got us all in his hands.”
Lynette Wolfgang says state law adds another complication: “In each precinct you have to have at least one Republican and one Democrat. I’m having a hard time. It seems a lot of my election workers that are dropping out are Democrats.” She says anyone who values the right to vote should consider working there, too. “I urge people if they want to be able to vote in person, please help out and be a poll worker. I do need election workers. Time is getting short.”
And one more reason for a potential worker shortage – clerks will need more people to handle an influx of absentee ballots – which have to be counted separately. Scheele says, “Local clerks have said the requests for absentee ballots have increased quite a bit. We’ve issued almost 24,000 ballots county-wide. And I’ve got a 45% return rate already.”
Meanwhile, extra safety procedures are in place for Election Day. Poll workers are getting training on everything from filling out the voter registration and preparing the ballot, to sanitizing those common touch points every time a voter walks through the door. Stevens says, “We are going to be wiping down pencils, we are going to be wiping down anything that they touch. The secrecy sleeves. Every single time we pass them to somebody they get wiped off. We’re trying to keep it as easy as possible but as safe as possible.”
Any registered voter can work as an election inspector in any township. It’s not too late – but clerks don’t want you to wait because election workers go through a short training session.