Virus Drives Need for Poll Workers at Election Boards

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The coronavirus isn’t having a large impact on early voting, though it might be contributing to a shortage in poll workers for Tuesday’s primary election.  

Elections officials in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties all reported strong early voting numbers as of Friday, though both Mahoning and Columbiana have had to replace workers calling off because of the outbreak. 

“We’ve been struggling to get enough from the start of this,” said Tom McCabe, deputy director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections.  

McCabe attributed the shortage to a combination of factors. The primary came earlier in the year and many poll workers who go to Florida in the winter are still there. Election Day was set for St. Patrick’s Day this year. And, the spread of COVID-19 has left some poll workers, especially older workers, wanting to stay home.

The board had managed to fill all 848 positions – four in each of the county’s 212 precincts – as of Monday, but about 80 called off in the past two days because of coronavirus concerns, McCabe said. The board issued a news release Friday to recruit poll workers, targeting the message to teachers and high school seniors who will be off Election Day because of the statewide school shutdown that begins Tuesday.  

“As long as they’re 18, we can use them,” he said. 

Poll workers are paid up to $214 for the day, according to the board of elections’ news release. 

The shortage isn’t unique to Mahoning County, or even Ohio, he said. Along with Ohio, the three other states voting Tuesday – Arizona, Florida and Illinois – are also facing shortfalls, he reported.   

So far, the county has replaced about 55 of the 80 workers who called off. 

“We do have some people calling off,” said Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections. 

Trumbull County has been able to fill gaps utilizing an existing pool of alternates from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, Penrose said. About 60 of those alternates are in place in the county, she said.  

Columbiana County always has a need for more poll workers and is actively recruiting, said Kim Fusco, director of the county’s board of elections. As in Mahoning County, many of the poll workers who normally would be available for the primary in Columbiana County are still south for the winter. 

In addition, though some older workers aren’t concerned about working the polls, their children have urged them not to take the risk, she added. The few workers who called off have already been replaced with people who were on the reserve list.    

“We have enough now, but we’re training in case we have further calloffs,” she said. “I want a bunch of schoolteachers to call us.”

Boards of elections across Ohio now are in the final days of early voting before Tuesday’s primary election day. Voters have until 2 p.m. Monday to cast their ballots early and elections boards will have hours Saturday and Sunday. 

Gov. Mike DeWine urged Ohio voters to cast their ballots early.

Early voting numbers in Trumbull County were around 7,900 as of Friday morning, compared with just over 9,00 during the 2016 primary, Penrose reported. 

Early voting has “picked up quite a bit” this week in Trumbull County, more than double what it had been the past few weeks, she said. There’s always an increase the week before the primary, but there’s more of an increase this year because people don’t want to go to their regular polling places Tuesday.  

 “They want to get it done,” she said. “The perception is they’re going to avoid the larger crowds.” 

COVID-19 – the disease spread by coronavirus – and DeWine’s suggestion influenced some voters to come out early, while others simply cast ballots because they had made their decision.  

As of about 3:30 p.m. Friday, 13,052 Mahoning County voters had cast ballots early, McCabe reported. That compares to 11,929 total ballots cast during the 2016 primary. He attributed the higher totals to the nicer weather recently, adding that early voting always ticking up the week before the primary. 

A few voters have mentioned that they were voting early because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Probably this weekend we’ll see a pretty good crowd of people in here,” he said.    

Columbiana County’s Fusco reported a “vast uptick” in recent days. As of Friday afternoon, her office had already matched the 645 in-office votes cast during the 2016 primary, and she expected to get another 200 over the weekend. She has received 870 of the 1,140 mail-in ballots her office sent out. 

The outbreak might be a factor, she acknowledged. “Everybody is listening to the news and taking heed of that,” she said.  

It didn’t appear to be driving voters to the polls Friday afternoon at the Mahoning County elections board offices. 

Robin Wesson of Youngstown said she voted early because the county keeps changing her polling place. “It keeps getting further and further away from my house,” she said.  

Colleen Fakner of Struthers voted Friday because she hadn’t made up her mind about who to vote for earlier. “It’s good to see what other candidates have to offer,” she said. 

Mike and Amanda Moss of Boardman voted Friday. They were joined by their daughter, Amanda, a student at Kent State University who was home because of the university shutdown announced this week. 

The family voted early because they were headed out of town next week, Mike Moss said. The coronavirus was more a source of annoyance than concern.

“It feels overblown but it is what it is,” he said. 

“Granted, you have to take precautions and know what’s happening, but it’s just becoming overwhelming. It’s just too much,” his wife affirmed. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.