BATAVIA — It’s roughly a month before the June 23 primary and New York 27th Congressional District special election and the Genesee County Board of Elections is looking for help.
Democratic Election Commissioner Lorie Longhany said she and Republican Commissioner Richard Siebert have a need for more poll workers. They may need workers for the November General Election as well.
“After counting up the poll workers who have decided that they don’t want to work on Election Day or early voting, probably anyone we recruit is just going to fill the spots and we’re not going to go over with our poll workers,” Longhany said.
Longhany said as of Wednesday’s Ways and Means Committee meeting, the county was down 42 poll workers out of approximately 200.
“We’ve had some luck getting some young people to step forward, but not in the numbers we are probably going to need,” she said. “We have an election we have to put on on the 23rd (of June) and we need staff to put it on.”
Ways and Means Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg asked how anyone who wants to serve as a poll worker would contact election commissioners. Longhany said the number to call is 815-7804.
“We are seeing poll workers who just aren’t comfortable going out and sitting during the climate that we’re in with COVID-19,” Longhany said.
Clattenburg said she understands those poll workers’ concerns.
“A lot of our poll workers are older citizens and are considered vulnerable. We appreciate the service they’ve given us all these years, but we totally understand their perspective now,” she said.
For poll workers who work during early voting, there are five-hour days during the weekends and eight-hour days during the week. She estimated the Election Day hours as 5:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m.
“If you’re young and energetic and you want to serve your community ...” Longhany said. “They would be trained by our technicians and, in that training, they would also be able to work for an entire year for us. If November comes around and we need help, we can pull from that pool then.”
Longhany said the board sent poll workers a survey about two weeks ago.
“Most of them returned it, but some didn’t. I spent the whole day yesterday (Tuesday) calling all the poll workers. Some of them, I left messages for and haven’t heard back from yet,” she said. “Hopefully, those 42 ‘no’s’ is going to change in the next couple of days when they start returning phone calls.”
The Democratic election commissioner said she and Siebert made a plan. “We wanted to have a poll worker that could facilitate the movement of the voters getting through to get to the table to sign in by keeping the 6-foot social distancing, passing out the little bottles of sanitizer that our emergency management team is so wonderfully providing for us,” she said. This worker would keep a semblance of order.
“When people vote, they’re usually in lines and they’re close together,” Longhany said. “This is a different process. We want our poll workers to be safe. We want our voters to be safe. Our idea was, we would try to hire 23 poll workers that could help our coordinators and our table inspectors, but also help moving the people in.”
There are a lot of recent college graduates and high school students who are 18 who qualify, Clattenburg said.
“We’ve been working on them. We’re not getting the takers ...” Longhany said.
Clattenburg said sometimes it’s a matter of getting the word out that there is a real need.
“I think some people assume, ‘They’re not talking to me,’ but really, you’re talking to everyone who’s interested in doing this kind of service,” she said.
Longhany said, “We’ve been talking about having trainings in the IT training room. First, we thought about 10 at a time, but we may have to go a little lower with that number ... We will get them trained, we just need them.”
Legislator Christian Yunker said there have been a lot of high school kids looking for work.
“I don’t know if there’s a way to either develop a flyer we can hand out or put a press release on the newspaper,” he said. “Even if we can certify community service hours or if there is some sort of pay, There’s a lot of people and a lot of younger folks that are quite bored now.”
Longhany said they’ve been putting messages on the Genesee Co. NY Board of Elections Facebook page and have sent letters to school principals, but the situation wasn’t as urgent as it is now.
“Now, we feel we really have to move on this,” she said.