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Politics

NC Elections Officials Aim To Avoid Poll Worker Shortage This Fall

File photo of polling worker as she enters a polling place in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, April 24, 2019 as early voting began in the Republican primary election for the North Carolina 9th Congressional District.
Chuck Burton
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AP
File photo of a polling worker entering a polling place in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, April 24, 2019 as early voting began in the Republican primary election for the North Carolina 9th Congressional District.

Anne Moebes signed up to work at a polling site in Buncombe County for the March 3 primaries, just before the coronavirus pandemic really hit the United States. It was her first time volunteering as a poll worker and she ended up serving as a precinct judge.

"I didn't expect to really like it and find it as rewarding as I did," said the 62-year-old retired attorney.

Moebes said that in this time of deep, tribal divisions she was heartened by the cooperative, enthusiastic attitudes and sense of civic pride shared by all the poll workers no matter their affiliation.

Now, however, her age and medical condition--she has a predisposition to clotting--make it too risky for Moebes to work the polls.

I would say that it would take a vaccine before I would be comfortable doing it, and even then I'm not sure. -Anne Moebes, on working at a polling site in the Nov. general election

She declined to serve as a poll worker last month during the 11th Congressional District Republican  primary runoff and said working the polls for the General Election this fall is highly unlikely.

"I would say that it would take a vaccine before I would be comfortable doing it and even then I'm not sure," Moebes said.

The start of one-stop, early voting in North Carolina is just about 90 days away. And elections officials are scrambling to make sure they have enough volunteers to work the polls despite health risks associated with the coronavirus.

Health concerns like these contributed to poll worker shortages--and hours-long waits for voters--in Wisconsin's April primaries. In Milwaukee, the number of polling sites on Election Day went from 180 to just five because there weren't enough volunteers to staff them. Green Bay went from 30 polling sites to two.

Elections Officials, Others Intensify Recruiting Efforts To Find Poll Workers

This is why elections officials, lawmakers and other policy makers are intensifying recruiting efforts and increasing incentives for the thousands of poll workers needed at 2,700 precincts across North Carolina on Election Day and at one-stop sites for early voting.

In Wake County, public school officials have designated Election Day as a teacher workday.

"Just trying to get maybe a younger crowd involved," said Gary Sims, Wake County's Director of Elections.

Elections assistants may be as young as 17. Many of the jobs at polling places this year will entail handing out face masks to voters, sanitizing voting booths after each use, and keeping voters safely and socially distanced.

And getting younger volunteers is crucial since the average age of poll workers in North Carolina is upwards of 60, said Damon Circosta, who chairs the State Board of Elections.

"That's a population that's particularly concerned about coronavirus and one of the vulnerable populations, according to the CDC," he added.

Addison Gray, a school nurse, recently signed up to work at a polling site this fall in Wake County after seeing a public service announcement on social media
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC
/
WUNC
Addison Gray, a school nurse, recently signed up to work at a polling site this fall in Wake County after seeing a public service announcement on social media.

Addison Gray is a 30-year-old school nurse in Wake County. She signed up to work the polls this fall after seeing a public service announcement on social media.

"And it pays, like, up to $200 a day and I was, like, 'Oh, that's kind of enticing,'" she said.

Recently enacted legislation provides additional hazard pay for poll workers and funding to help counties acquire enough personal protective equipment. The legislation also allows unemployed people to continue receiving benefits while collecting a stipend as a poll worker.

But Gray said, for her, volunteering is not about the money. She was motivated by the calls for social and racial justice in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

"I felt like I needed to be a better citizen with all of the unrest that's going on. I wanted to do something but I didn't know what I should do," she explained.

Wake County, with more than 200 voting precincts, has a large and growing population, which eases concerns about recruiting enough poll workers.

But in small, rural Clay County, Elections Director Rebecca Hall said that with an older population, she's concerned fears of getting sick could make recruiting pretty hard, as she saw with last month's runoff in the GOP primary for Congress.

"We actually lost five or six just for this runoff," she said, referring to volunteers who declined to work the polls because of health concerns.

On the eastern side of the state, in Chowan County, 65-year-old June Britt said her doctor advised her not to return as a member of a Multi-partisan Assistance Team this year. The two-person teams go to nursing homes to help residents fill out registration and absentee ballot request forms.

"I came down with bronchitis and now I have asthma," she said.

But Britt said she will work as a chief precinct judge at a polling site this fall, even though her doctor would prefer she didn't. She said she thinks she'll have more control in that setting to distance herself from others.

"Being able to vote is just a privilege and an honor," she said.

And, she added, helping others to vote is a blessing.

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