COVID and the volume of ballots are making it difficult for Pa. to recruit poll workers

Written by on September 21, 2021

COVID and the volume of ballots are making it difficult for Pa. to recruit poll workers

By Sam Dunklau / WITF

September 21, 2021

Mail-in ballots are sorted and counted by workers on Election Day in Northampton County. Pennsylvania lawmakers instituted no-excuse mail voting for the first time in 2019. Matt Smith / For Spotlight PA

State election officials say many counties are having a difficult time attracting poll workers for upcoming elections.

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Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners’ Association of Pennsylvania, said recently that on top of the pandemic, changes that state lawmakers made in 2019 meant poll workers were dealing with millions of mail-in ballots in a matter of days:

“We were also trying to run safe polling places and also deal with the additional attention that came from a very contentious presidential election,” Schaefer said. 

The best thing state lawmakers can do to attract more poll workers, Schaefer said, is to make their workloads easier.

She and others want counties to have more time to get mail-in ballots ready to be counted.

Right now, workers can’t touch them until Election Day.

That idea is part of a larger bill authored by House Republicans. They reintroduced it after Gov. Tom Wolf, who vetoed it in June, said he’s “open to new voter ID rules.”

Department of State Deputy Secretary Jonathan Marks said some poll workers have

stopped signing up for the job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marks said others have quit because of harassment from groups who incorrectly believe last fall’s election was fraudulent.

“These are your friends and neighbors, people you go to church with, and I think that provides some built-in assurance that the people who are running elections in those local precincts are going to be doing it on the up and up,” Marks said. 

State lawmakers are considering election code changes aimed at improving conditions for poll workers, including pay increases and additional training.

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