Editor’s note: This story was produced through a partnership between the INDY and The 9th Street Journal, which is published by journalism students at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy.
Damon Circosta may be able to sleep better now. The chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections said a month ago that his biggest worry in the middle of the night was whether counties would be able to recruit enough poll workers. But it appears most counties have met or are on track to fill their needs, according to a spreadsheet posted on the state elections website.
Elections officials were concerned because many people in the prime demographic group for poll workers – 65-70 year-old retirees – are expected to stay at home this year because of risks from the coronavirus.
But state and local recruiting efforts for “Democracy Heroes” seem to have worked.
“There’s been no one in any county really contacting us saying they’re in dire trouble,” said Noah Grant, the elections communication specialist for the board of elections.
Among the counties with full staffing: Durham – so much that the county is now rejecting poll worker applications.
“We have had overwhelming interest from the community and expect all voting sites to be fully staffed,” the Durham County Board of Elections wrote in an email to interested applicants on Sep. 29.
It takes between 25,000 to 30,000 workers across the state to run the election, according to Grant. To meet this need, officials began recruitment in May and June, with an increased push in July. Facebook helped North Carolina and other states through targeted ads and News Feed messages with links to the poll worker application.
Grant said he didn’t know the demographics of registered poll workers in each county but that many previous volunteers are still helping again this year.
“A lot of the people that are poll workers are very dedicated to the process of serving and have done it for years,he said. “This wasn’t going to stop them.”
He said there will be safety precautions at all at polling locations. Poll workers will have personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, and locations will be frequently sanitized. There also will be dividers to minimize contact with voters.
When The 9th Street Journal asked about details in the spreadsheet on Friday, Grant said it was last updated on Sep. 21 and was outdated and incomplete due to a lack of response from county board of election departments. But many counties, including Wake are marked on it as fully covered.
The effort also got a boost from the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources, which is offering employees three days of community service leave to work in the election.
Although most needs are met, the state is continuing to target counties to build a reserve of volunteers through Facebook advertisements and OSHR emails. These counties include: Anson, Ashe, Avery, Beaufort, Caswell, Chowan, Cumberland, Dare, Duplin, Graham, Hoke, Johnston, Lenoir, Montgomery, Northampton, Rutherford, Stanly, Wilkes and Watauga.
Yet one month to election day, Grant’s biggest fear is one that is out of his control: an outbreak of the virus.
“It’s not a fear that we’re not going to have enough workers because of an outbreak,” he said. “We just don’t want to see anybody get hurt on the job or go through this because you’re volunteering in the election.”
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