A global pandemic, hostile election day crowds, new technology and odd work hours mean that finding poll workers is harder now than it’s ever been, according to Lycoming County voting officials.
But who are poll workers? They are the people who greet you as you open the door to your local polling place on election day. Seated behind folding tables on metal chairs that probably aren’t that comfortable, these workers sit for hours on end, processing each voter to ensure they are registered and the votes are processed efficiently and properly.
It’s one of the most important jobs on election day, and without them, a fair and honest voting process would be impossible.
“The burden seems to fall disproportionately on older folks who are retired,” said Forrest Lehman, director of Voter Services for Lycoming County, who says he struggles each year to find people to staff the polls.
Understandably, it was difficult to find individuals willing to staff voting stations in 2020 due to the pandemic, Lehman said. But as the vaccine has been widely distributed to elderly folks throughout the county, he hoped those difficulties would lessen.
On the contrary, after an exceptionally hostile 2020 presidential election, Lehman said it is just as hard to find people to work now as it was last year.
“The voters were terrible and treated the poll workers horribly,” he said.
Frustration over voting rules and requirements often are laid on election day workers who are stuck with the difficult task of enforcement.
But Lehman asked voters to remember that the poll workers don’t make the rules and they can’t change them for any individual person. He instead suggested that voters who want a rule or requirement changed on election day call their local representatives or the state governor’s office to voice their complaint.
“If they bully all those people out of wanting to do the work, then they are just going to show up to an empty precinct and they won’t be able to vote,” he said.
There are between 400 and 500 poll workers in Lycoming County for each election, Lehman said and while he believes there will be enough for the 2021 Primary, which has a smaller election turnout historically, “it’s going to get busier again from here on.”