No shortage of Massachusetts poll workers for election day, alleviating safety concerns

A polling sign outside the East Boston High School gymnasium on Election Day 2018. Photo by Andrew Mason / BU News Service

By Elizabeth McLaughlin
BU News Service

BOSTON – Polling locations across Massachusetts are in good shape, expected to be fully staffed for the November election despite the pandemic, officials say, thanks to local and state-level recruitment efforts and a surge of young people and first-time election workers signing up to work the polls.

COVID-19 safety concerns for at-risk populations, particularly elders, triggered various public campaigns such as Power the Polls encouraging young people and low-risk individuals to apply to be election workers. The majority of poll workers are over the age of sixty and thus may be reluctant to work the election in November.

However, recruitment in Massachusetts has been very successful this year, according to Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State William Galvin, whose website included a Poll Worker Job Board this year to assist clerks in recruitment.

“Most clerks have asked to be removed from that listing after being inundated with offers to work on Election Day. Only three communities are still listed,” O’Malley said in an email. The cities and towns still listed on the job board are Ashburnham, Lawrence and Lowell.

The City of Lowell is still seeking out Spanish and Khmer translators but is expected to be fully staffed, according to assistant city solicitor Elliott Veloso. No polling locations in Lowell will be consolidated or eliminated.

Veloso said each polling location will be staffed by a warden, a clerk and four inspectors.

“Based on anecdotal experience, there have been quite a few younger people or people who have never worked the polls before who have submitted applications to work these upcoming elections, particularly for November,” Veloso said. “I can certainly say that the city is very appreciative of their interest helping out at the polls, especially in light of the fact that many of our longstanding poll workers declined to or opted to not work the polls this year in light of the coronavirus.”

Similarly, more young people and first-time election workers expressed interest and applied to work the polls in Huntington this year than usual, according to town clerk Linda Hamlin.

“However, the big surprise has been the number of out of the area folks who have expressed interest,” Hamlin said in an email. “Numerous folks from Eastern [Mass.], even coastal [Mass.], and some from the Pittsfield area and even out of state.”

MassVOTE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing voter participation across the state, has also been working on poll worker recruitment.

 “There’s been a big push at the state and national level to recruit as many poll workers as possible, and the call has been answered. People really, really want to get involved this year,” said policy and communications manager Alex Psilakis, adding some communities in Massachusetts have received hundreds, if not thousands, more poll worker applications than needed.

“Cities that were quite literally begging us to help them get poll workers six month ago are now saying they’re all set, which is really nice to see,” he said.

Like the primary election in September, certain safety precautions will be in place at polling stations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Secretary of State’s office provided each town with personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, plexiglass barriers, and virus protection kits for every polling location.

The guidance for local election officials put out by the office, developed with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, lays out specific procedures for voting sites, including arranging the site to allow for social distancing and requiring poll workers to wear face coverings.

Though polling sites are expected to be fully staffed and in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols on Election Day, individuals who wished to vote in-person could also do so early. Early voting in Massachusetts took place from Oct. 17-30. Specific voting times differed in each community.

“By opting to take advantage of early in-person voting, the voter is helping to reduce wait lines and crowds on election day itself,” Veloso said. “Just speaking for myself and the City of Lowell, we would strongly encourage voters to take advantage of early in-person voting. It just makes it easier and safer for everyone involved.”

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